Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Objections

What follows are some of the most common objections to the pro-life view one is likely to hear from defenders of abortion, both in the media and in everyday conversation. It is my hope the pro-life responses underneath will be beneficial to those who are defending the unborn, whether it be via e-mail, Facebook, or face to face. Rather than reinvent the wheel each new conversation, I have found the following points to be especially helpful in simplifying the debate and defending the right to life of unborn human persons, over and against the common objections of the pro-abortion choice position.

It should be noted that the following objections are not the more philosophically sophisticated defenses of abortion one is likely to encounter from those such as Judith Jarvis Thomson or David Boonin. Rather, these are common rhetorical talking points often made by those less informed on the topic but which nevertheless need to be addressed due to their prevalence and sometimes unfortunate effect of leaving pro-lifers speechless. 

Objection #1: No One Knows When Life Begins

First, let us suppose for a moment we do not know when life begins. This turns out to be an argument in favor of the pro-life view, for if you do not know when life begins you should err on the side of life. Just as a hunter in the woods should not immediately shoot at a rustling bush but rather should err on the side of human life until he determines what he is shooting at (lest he shoot his hunting partner!), so also we should err on the side of life if we do not know whether or not there is human life in the womb. A position which says, “We don’t know when life begins, therefore abort it” is morally bankrupt.

But second, and more importantly, we do in fact know that life begins at conception. Science has already settled this issue. During the process of fertilization, a living sperm unites with a living egg to produce a living zygote. There is no period of non-life. Biology textbooks commonly recognize three criteria for life: growth (reproduction), metabolism, and reaction to stimuli. These are present in the unborn from conception. In other words, dead things do not grow, metabolize, or react to stimuli.

Furthermore, “a United States Senate judiciary subcommittee invited experts to testify on the question of when life begins. All of the quotes from the following experts come directly from the official government record of their testimony”:[1]

I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception...I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and that any interruption at any point throughout this time constitutes a termination of human life...I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of not a human being. This is human life at every stage. (Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania)

“After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being." This "is no longer a matter of taste or opinion," and "not a metaphysical contention; it is plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.” (Dr. Jerome LeJeune, professor of genetics at the University of Descartes in Paris)

It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive…It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception. (Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School)

The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter—the beginning is conception. (Dr. Watson A. Bowers, University of Colorado Medical School).

The Official Senate report on Senate Bill 158, the “Human Life Bill,” summarized the issue this way:[2]
Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being—a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.
Objection #2: The Unborn is Only a Potential Human Being

This objection is related to the first one above and so often the two objections must be dealt with together. Refer to the quotes above, along with these additional quotes by embryologists (who should be considered experts in the subject matter) relating to the actual (not potential) humanness of the unborn:[3]

It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and the resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual. (Dr. Bradley M. Patten, Human Embryology, 43)

The cell results from fertilization of an oocyte by a sperm and is the beginning of a human being...Each of us starts life as a cell called a zygote. (Dr. Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 1, 12).

The science and logic behind this is simple and straightforward. The unborn has human parents and human DNA. The unborn has a human genetic fingerprint. In other words, human beings make human beings. If the unborn is not a human, one needs to explain how it is possible for two human beings to produce something that isn't human (in spite of the scientific evidence) but somehow later becomes human.

To put it another way, life is a continuum. Embryologists agree that from the moment of conception the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being. Scott Klusendorf sums it up this way:

You didn't come from an embryo. You once were an embryo. At no point in your prenatal development did you undergo a substantial change or change of nature. You began as a human being and will remain so until death. Sure, you lacked maturity at that early stage of your life (as does an infant), but you were human nonetheless.[4]

In other words, "embryos are human individuals at a particular stage of their development."[5] This is an important point to grasp. No one is arguing that embryos are fully mature and developed human beings. Neither are newborns or toddlers for that matter. Rather, embryos, like newborns and toddlers, are human beings at a particular stage of development.

To summarize, the unborn are distinct from their parents possessing their own unique chromosomal structure and directing their own internal development. They are living because dead things do not grow, metabolize, or react to stimuli. And they are human because they come from human parents and have a human genetic signature. All the unborn needs are time and nourishment, just like the newborn.

Therefore, the unborn is not a potential human being anymore than a newborn is a potential human being. They are both human beings at particular stages of development. An embryo is a potential fetus, which is a potential newborn, which is a potential toddler, which is a potential adolescent, which is a potential adult. But all are human beings.

On a more abstract philosophical note, a potential X must be an actual Y. It is not enough for the defender of abortion to say the unborn is a potential human being. They must define what it is actually. So if they are going to deny that the unborn is actually human, what is it? What kind of being is it? A fish being? An ape being? A cat being? Again, science makes it clear that the unborn from conception belongs to the species Homo-sapiens, in other words, the unborn is a human being.

Objection #3: A Woman Has the Right to Do What She Wants With Her Own Body

First, this objection is prima facie false. A woman cannot do whatever she wants with her own body, and neither can a man. There are plenty of laws which restrict our freedom with what we can do with our own bodies (e.g., drug laws). More to the point, laws always restrict what we can do with our own bodies when what we are doing brings harm to another individual. This is exactly what is happening in the case of abortion, where the mother’s decision not only brings harm to her unborn but brings the life of her unborn to an end.

Second, this objection begs the question in assuming there is only one body involved. But it should be obvious there are two: the mother’s and the unborn. While the mother’s body is certainly involved, it is not the mother’s body that is being aborted. After all, the woman survives the abortion while the unborn doesn’t. This fact is again confirmed by science. The unborn from conception has a totally unique, individual, and separate genetic code. The unborn has a separate central nervous system, may have a different blood type and, in the case of a boy, a different gender. In other words, a pregnant woman does not have four arms, four legs, two heads, or a penis when she is pregnant with a boy. There are two bodies involved, not one.

Therefore, the question is not what a woman can do with her own body but rather what she should be permitted to do with the body and life of her unborn.

Objection #4: Abortion is Legal. Roe v. Wade is the Law

First, the fact that something is legal does not make it moral. What makes a civil law good is its being based on a good moral law. Laws against murder, rape, and stealing are good laws because these acts are genuinely morally wrong and should be legislated against. In other words, the moral law should influence our civil law, but our civil law does not necessarily correspond to the moral law.

Second, there are plenty of issues which used to be legal but were also immoral. A case in point is the practice of slavery. Slavery was morally wrong even when it was legal. If a slaveholder were to argue, “Slavery is legal. Dred Scott v. Sandford is the law,” this would completely miss the point. Likewise, to say abortion is moral because it is legal is also misguided. This commits the is/ought fallacy. Just because abortion is allowed, it doesn’t follow that it ought to be.

Objection #5: Abortion is a Woman’s Issue. Men Should Stay Out of It

First, “arguments don't have penises, people do.”[6] A pro-life woman could just as easily present the scientific data and philosophical arguments in defense of the unborn. This is a classic example of an ad-hominem fallacy. It attacks the person rather than the argument and is sexist in nature. In short, “gender is absolutely irrelevant to whether the pro-life position is correct.”[7]

Second, if men cannot speak on abortion then it would seem to follow that we should overturn Roe v. Wade since this court case was decided by nine male Supreme Court justices. In addition, if we are going to be consistent, all male lawyers who work for Planned Parenthood or the ACLU on abortion-related issues should be fired.[8]

Objection #6: You Can’t Legislate Morality

First, every law legislates a moral point of view. Laws against murder, stealing, and littering legislate the moral point of view that murder, stealing, and littering are wrong and should be prohibited and penalized by law. With regards to abortion, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates are attempting to legislate their beliefs. Pro-life advocates want to legislate their belief that abortion should not be permitted because they argue that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification. Pro-abortion choice advocates want to legislate their belief that abortion should be permitted because it is fundamentally an issue of women’s rights. The question is, “Whose belief is correct?” and “Whose belief should be legislated?” Regardless, neither side is in a morally or legally neutral position.

Second, because life begins at conception and the unborn deserve to be protected, it is pro-abortion choice advocates who have legislated their belief onto 50,000,000 unborn human beings since Roe v. Wade. This legislation has ended in their death. I cannot think of a more radical form of legislation. In reality, it is the pro-abortion choice position which legislates their morality on the weakest and most defenseless members of the human community.

Objection #7: There is No Consensus on the Abortion Issue

First, an absence of consensus does not mean an absence of truth. The fact that people may not agree on an issue does not mean there is no truth to be discovered, no right or wrong answer. Women's rights, slavery, child labor, and a host of other issues have been argued, debated, and fought over, by all walks of people from all levels of education and all facets of religious belief or non-belief. But we wouldn't conclude from this that these issues do not have morally correct answers. In fact, most people in our country today would say that these particular issues have been successfully resolved, though they were certainly controversial in the past. By the same token, the issue of abortion is an objective moral issue which has a correct moral answer. Unfortunately, while we used to discriminate on the basis of gender and race, we now discriminate on the basis of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency.

Second, if there is no consensus on the abortion issue, what follows from this? It is hard to understand why the pro-abortion choice position should be considered the default stance. This is far from clear, if not downright counterintuitive. It seems the default position would be to err on the side of life. Regardless, it is impossible for the government to take a morally or legally neutral stance on this issue: either the government will allow abortion or it will not. So simply saying “there is no consensus on the abortion issue” is not very helpful in resolving anything.

Objection #8: Don’t Like Abortion? Don’t Have One. Stop Dictating Your Belief

First, the statement “stop dictating your belief” is self-refuting. If dictating a belief is wrong, then one shouldn’t be dictating the belief that it is “wrong to dictate belief.” In other words, the person making this statement is doing the very thing they are telling you not to do: dictating their belief.

Second, this position commits the subjectivist (or relativist) fallacy. The subjectivist fallacy occurs when an objective truth claim is treated as if it were a subjective preference. Exposing this fallacy is easy if we simply change the moral issue under discussion: “Don’t like slavery? Don’t own a slave! But stop dictating your belief on me” or “Don’t like rape? Don’t rape anyone! But stop dictating your belief on me.” Of course, this is ridiculous. Those who object to the immoral acts of slavery and rape are arguing that slavery and rape are objectively wrong. Therefore, it is completely inappropriate to respond as if they are making subjective preference claims, i.e., “I don’t like slavery” or “I don’t like rape.” Likewise, the pro-life position argues against elective abortion because abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification, and this is objectively wrong.

Third, in a bit of irony, it was the pro-abortion choice position which overwhelmingly dictated their belief on the will of the people in Roe v. Wade and its companion case Doe v. Bolton. Prior to 1973, all 50 states in this country had at least some restrictions in place on elective abortion. But it was the judicial fiat of nine unelected judges that dictated a belief affecting the entire country, overturning the will of the people in all 50 states.

Objection #9: Abortion Should Be Permissible in Cases of Rape (or Incest)

First, Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute reports that abortions due to rape or incest account for approximately 1 percent of all abortions.[9] Other reports indicate the number to be even lower, less than one tenth of one percent. But assuming the higher number is correct, even if we grant that abortion is permitted in these cases this does nothing to justify abortion on demand in the remaining 99 percent. This is important to remember: pro-abortion choice advocates are usually arguing for abortion on demand, not merely in cases of rape or incest. So why appeal to the hard cases? Rape and incest alone do not justify abortion on demand. As Francis Beckwith notes,

To argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases of rape and incest is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital.[10]

In other words, proving an exception doesn’t prove a rule. When the hard cases of rape and incest are raised there is an important question to ask, which Scott Klusendorf words this way:

Okay, I’m going to grant for the sake of discussion that we keep abortion legal in cases of rape. Will you join me in supporting legal restrictions on abortions done for socioeconomic reasons that, as studies on your side of the issue show, make up the overwhelming percentage of abortions?[11]

If the defender of abortion answers “Yes” to this question then you have won an ally in opposing abortion in 99 percent of cases. But if they answer “No” (and this is the important part) then the abortion advocate is being disingenuous and resorting to emotional appeals. How so? Because if they refuse to oppose abortion on demand in the majority of cases it shows that their appeals to rape and incest were superfluous. There is obviously another reason they support abortion. At this point we can inquire,

Then why did you bring up rape except to mislead us into thinking that you support abortion only in the hard cases?[12]

Here’s the point: raising the issue of rape or incest is often an appeal to emotion made for its rhetorical value and to make pro-lifers look bad. This is fallacious, as well as intellectually dishonest. Even more, it is demeaning and cruel to those women who have regrettably experienced the morally repugnant act of rape because it attempts to exploit their tragedy for selfish and dishonest reasons.

Second, this objection begs the question by assuming the unborn is not fully human and can be exposed with a simple question: “Are we justified in killing a newborn baby who was conceived through rape or incest, even if that newborn causes the mother emotional pain and duress?” Someone may object, “That’s different. The newborn is a human being.” But that’s the issue, isn’t it? If the unborn is a human being then she cannot be killed because of how she was conceived anymore than the newborn. So the question is not really about rape or incest but rather “What is the unborn?” (See objections #1 and #2 above regarding the question “What is the unborn?”)

Third, because the unborn is a human being we must acknowledge there is not just one victim of rape but two. The unborn had no control over how she was conceived and is just as much a victim as the mother. But this raises the question, “Why should the unborn entity be killed because her father was a rapist?” Is this just? Does a child lose its right to life because its father was a sexual predator? Is a human being somehow less human because of how it was conceived? Should the mother be allowed to kill the child for the crime of the father? Certainly not. The violence of abortion doesn’t solve the violence of rape.

Hold on a minute. Isn’t all of this extremely uncompassionate? Isn’t it cruel to force a mother to carry her unborn against her will, especially given the horrifying and traumatic experience surrounding a conception through rape? Do pro-lifers lack compassion? Francis Beckwith responds,

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the rapist who has already forced this woman to carry her child, not the pro-lifer. The pro-life advocate merely wants to prevent another innocent human being (the unborn entity) from being a victim of another violent and morally reprehensible act, abortion, for two wrongs do not make a right. What makes abortion evil is the same thing that makes rape evil: an innocent human person is brutally violated and dehumanized. Unwillingness to endorse unjustified homicide is no lack of compassion.[13]

No one is saying this would be an easy decision for the mother. Victims of rape need to be cared for by family, friends, and their church. While carrying a child conceived through rape may be burdensome and emotionally stressful, adoption is always a better alternative to abortion. Many women have made this choice. The question should not be “What is my right?” but rather “What would a virtuous person do in this circumstance?”

Objection #10: I’m Personally Opposed to Abortion but I Think Women Should be Able to Choose

This is a stance commonly heard repeated amongst politicians, sometimes referred to as the “modified” pro-choice position. It sounds politically correct and is attractive to many, but the position is ultimately flawed.

A good question to ask someone who adopts this view is, “Why do you personally oppose abortion?” You would be surprised to hear how many respond by saying, “Because abortion kills a baby, but that is my own personal view.” Opposing abortion for this reason makes sense. After all, if abortion doesn’t kill an innocent human being, why would you oppose it?

On the other hand, if abortion does kill a human being, why would you support a woman’s right to do that? Upon reflection this position is strange indeed. The problem can be exposed by asking a follow-up question: “Let me see if I understand. You think abortion kills a human baby, and you believe women should have the right to do that?” Of course, when you word it this way, the “modified” pro-choice position doesn’t seem so attractive. And rightly so. If abortion does in fact kill an innocent human being then no one should have that right.

Another way to expose the inconsistency of this view is to once again simply change the moral issue under discussion. Imagine if someone said, “I’m personally opposed to slavery, but I think slave owners should be able to choose” or “I’m personally opposed to rape, but I think rapists should be able to choose.” Now the silliness is easily detectable.

Here’s the problem: if you say that people should have the right to choose a particular thing you are saying there is nothing inherently wrong with the thing being chosen, regardless of whether or not you would personally choose it. To say “women should be able to choose abortion” is to say there is nothing inherently wrong with abortion. But this is inconsistent, for if the person advocating the modified pro-choice view thinks that abortion takes the life of a human being then it is prima facie morally wrong.

To put it another way, to claim that something is wrong is to claim that it is impermissible. But if it is impermissible one cannot claim to have a right to do a wrong, otherwise the impermissible has become permissible.

Randy Alcorn summarizes the problem with this position:

Some people have the illusion that being personally opposed to abortion while believing others should be free to choose it is some kind of compromise between the proabortion and prolife positions. It isn’t. Prochoice people vote the same as proabortion people. Both oppose legal protection for the innocent unborn. Both are willing for children to die by abortion and must take responsibility for the killing of those babies even if they do not participate directly. To the baby who dies it makes no difference whether those who refused to protect her were proabortion or merely prochoice.[14]

The Top 8 Pro-Life Books Every Pro-Lifer Should Own

1. The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf
2. Defending Life by Francis Beckwith
4. The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor
5. Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen
6. The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft
7. The Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru
8. Natural Rights and the Right to Choose by Hadley Arkes (I have not yet read this book but it comes recommended by Scott Klusendorf)

[1] See Randy Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000), 52-55.
[2] Ibid., 55.
[3] Ibid., 52.
[4] Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 36.
[5] Ibid., 37.
[6] Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice (New York, NY: Cambridge University, 2007), 127.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Klusendorf, The Case for Life, 183.
[9] Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments, 231.
[10] Beckwith, Defending Life, 105.
[11] Klusendorf, The Case for Life, 175.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Beckwith, Defending Life, 106.
[14] Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments, 133.


Anonymous said...

Very well thought out and reasoned Aaron. This should prove to be a great quick reference guide for the defender of life. Thank as always.
Soli Deo Gloria,


Prayson Daniel said...

Thank you so much Aaron. This is among the best defense I have read that is faithful to 1 Peter 3:15.

May God bless Aaron and increase your love for Him and His people for His glory and majesty.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

This is a great read and the logic is outrageously sound. Thank you for it. But as a wannabe apologist myself I tried to see if there were any loopholes in any of the refutations. The only one I found was In argument #3 The woman has the right tondo what she wants with her own body. You argue firstly that this is false because a woman doesn't not have the right to do "whatever" she wants and then you cite drug laws as a reason. However, isn't this just a different way of committing the is/ought fallacy yourselves? As in, "Because the law is that you can't do what you want with your own body, we ought not do what we want with our own body?" or otherwise stated just because suicide is illegal doesn't mean that we ought not do it. Your thoughts?

Aaron said...


Good question, thank you. I do not think my response commits the is/ought fallacy because I am not arguing "A woman is not legally allowed to do what she wants with her own body, therefore she ought not to be able to do what she wants with her own body."

Rather, I am simply pointing out that the view "A woman can legally do whatever she wants with her own body" is plainly false.

A pro-abortion choice advocate (and even a pro-life advocate) may argue that women ought to be able to do whatever they want with their own bodies, but that would be a different discussion dealing with the abolition of drug laws, prostitution laws, suicide laws, etc.

In a country where these laws have already been abolished, and a woman really can legally do whatever she wants with her own body (so long as it doesn't "harm" another), then I would simply argue the second point, i.e., this still wouldn't apply to abortion since the body of the unborn is not theirs.

What do you think? Hope that helps.

MaryLou said...

Thank you for laying out the valid arguments so clearly and convincingly. God bless you!