Where to start the dialogue

President Obama says he wants to have a dialogue on abortion, and I think that is a great idea.  Too many people have traded sound bites for too long and not thought deeply about what abortion really is.

If you are going to have a dialogue on any topic, the first thing you want to do is ensure you are careful in defining the subject.  What is an abortion, anyway?  In this debate it is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy.  It is a scientific fact that abortion kills an innocent human being.

It might be helpful for Obama and other pro-choicers to view these images to see what abortions do.

As Greg Koukl points out, the first and main question is, “What is the unborn?”  If it is not a human being, then no justification for abortion is necessary.  If it is a human being, then no justification is sufficient (except to save the life of the mother, of course, which is in concert with the pro-life ethic).

So once people understand the facts, they should be able to make moral judgments based on them.  If it is immoral to kill innocent human beings then abortion is immoral.  If we have laws to protect innocent human beings from being killed, we should have laws preventing abortions.

So bring on the dialogue, and let’s point to the facts. 

Obama also said, “Let’s provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term.”  If he means that, he should heartily endorse Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs).  He needs to talk to Planned Parenthood and the like, though, because they consider PRCs to be the enemy and are working to restrict them.

0 thoughts on “Where to start the dialogue”

  1. Adam said: Abortion has zero to do with souls or religion. It is about terminating life. I hold that to be wrong. You do not.

    All killing is regrettable, except mercy killings. There are times though, as I’m sure you’d agree, when the alternative is worse. I doubt you really oppose all terminating of life. In fact if you have generally conservative leanings, I probably oppose it in more instances than you do: most meat-eating, most military adventures, the death penalty. Human life only, you say? Calling a zygote a human being is a very confused materialism, a very confused human-essentialism. Humans are special to me, of course, but there are no absolute boundaries between life forms. A cell is a cell is a cell, more similar than different to cells throughout the animal-vegetable kingdom. (Of course there’s great variety among cells, relatively speaking, but that variety doesn’t extend to musical virtuosity or depths of compassion). It took an extraordinary assortment of cells and billions of years to put together Mozart.

    I think compassion is the lodestar of morality. It isn’t so in Christianity, where for instance God’s eternal torture of most people who have ever lived — a deliberate cruelty INFINITELY greater than all the harm sinners have ever inflicted on one another — is alleged to be a moral necessity.

    Adam said: or humans that can’t feel things (and you would know, right?)

    No, this is important, I don’t know for sure, and it’s not an insignificant question. I expect I’d have a clearer idea if I gave a couple months to the study of when various signs appear in a fetus and what we know about nervous systems etc., but still I’m sure there are plenty of questions to which no-one has a clear answer yet. But it’s certain that no science supports the notion of a single cell being capable of sensitive or sophisticated being. (Well, except far out possibilities of consciousness being in some sense inseparable from all matter, which would make no distinction between live and dead matter anyway. That could allow for “sensitivity” in some hard-to-comprehend sense of the word, I suppose; probably not sophistication).


    1. You are correct, I need to refine my language. I believe terminating innocent human life is wrong.

      “it’s certain that no science supports the notion of a single cell being capable of sensitive or sophisticated being”

      Wow. This is utterly ridiculous. A cell is unsophisticated? Simple? Insensitive? Most life on the planet are single-celled bacteria that react to stimuli. They have a genetic blueprint that takes computers years to unravel. They adapt to drugs specifically designed to kill them in generations. Not so simple.

      “It isn’t so in Christianity, where for instance God’s eternal torture of most people who have ever lived — a deliberate cruelty INFINITELY greater than all the harm sinners have ever inflicted on one another”

      God sends no one to hell. Sins are not committed against other people, they are committed against God. Your assumes that man is God.

      A zygote is the name of a very small human. A toddler is another name. Apart from size and maturity (either biological or otherwise) there is no scientific difference. A zygote cannot vote, reproduce, or do simple math. Neither can a toddler.

      The fact that you work with little humans every day and find it morally neutral to kill even smaller one disturbes me.


    2. Hi Adam, I was using “being” in “sensitive and sophisticated being” as shorthand for what it might be like INSIDE the amoeba or what-have-you, shorthand for consciousness, sentience, degree of ability to suffer. I presume you’re not arguing for laws against antibacterial soap.


  2. Hi Mark,

    The answer to your bean scenario is the same as to the mugger one. The loss of the seeds is a great loss because I wanted beans. The seeds themselves are no good to me.


    1. Oh, heh, I forgot that. And just last week I was planting bean and other seeds with kids (I’m an assistant kindergarten teacher).


  3. Hi Cameron, re Peter Singer: I agree that the moment of birth doesn’t change anything essential in a fetus. (It changes a lot for the mother). I even agree that a very late, save-the-mother abortion probably troubles some people less than infanticide in part because of our “out of sight, out of mind” orientation. I do wonder at what stage of pregnancy a fetus would be human enough to warrant stricter rules. (Again, I’m unsatisfied with my grasp of the evidence; what I’m arguing here is the principles by which we sort the evidence).

    But if we admit to a scale of moral responsibility corresponding to the complexity and sensitivity of life forms — which is our ABSOLUTELY MAINSTREAM, HARDLY CONTROVERSIAL yardstick in our dealings with non-human animals — there is no logical necessity to support infanticide rights if you support abortion rights, or to support late-pregnancy abortion rights if you support early ones.

    By the way, though Peter Singer does go off the rails in places, he’s worth checking out. His logic regarding our individual responsibility for global poverty is eloquently straightforward and hard-hitting. (His famous analogy is: you happen upon a drowning boy. You’d like to save him, but you’d ruin your expensive shoes. A universally condemned attitude, of course. Yet how self-forgiving we are about buying ourselves luxuries whose price could save a distant life).

    (He agrees the moral equivalence isn’t perfect, but still it’s substantial. And he knows governments and NGOs and economics complicate the task of saving distant lives; still, a potent thought gets through, so obvious yet so neglected).

    Also, do I vaguely recall that his position on infanticide is more humane, less callous than the usual one-line summation suggests…? I think he describes very particular, and real-life, cases where the suffering preventable by infanticide is not inconsiderable. Still I’m sure he goes off the rails, neglects important considerations, but I seem to remember it’s not QUITE as bad as it sounds.


  4. Eloquent on Muslims there, mizclark. I do think their theology has some vicious and terribly dangerous repercussions (of a kind not incomparable to Christianity’s before it was tempered by modernity), but the bogeyman vision of them needs a lot of challenging. Meeting some of the countless deeply lovely Muslims in person goes a long way. I appreciate your refusal to subscribe to a simple Christian exceptionalism, even while you do presumably believe that Christian faith does something for a soul which no other belief can. (Of course I find the latter conclusion to be quite unsupported by the real world evidence).


  5. The answer to your bean scenario is the same as to the mugger one. The loss of the seeds is a great loss because I wanted beans. The seeds themselves are no good to me.

    But beans are not human beings, even though you treat the unborn as such (i.e., other humans get to determine whether they are worthy to live).

    Re. real world evidence: Jesus rose from the dead demonstrating that He is God. We’ve got tons of evidence, while Buddhism does not correspond to reality.

    Re. your expensive shoes / poor kid example: That might apply to Christians, but not anyone believing in Karma / reincarnation. After all, these poor kids obvioiusly have bad Karma to work off. We wouldn’t want to get in the way of that, would we? Just some real world examples of how Satanic Karma-based religions are.


  6. Seas,

    You mentioned that we “want” science to say the zygote is human. This isn’t true. What is true is that science DOES say the human zygote is a new human being whether we “want” it to or not.

    “Non-human animals”? If it ain’t human, it’s an animal. We might all be creatures, as we are all creations of The Creator, but at least speaking for myself, I’m no animal. Certainly some people act like animals, but even that statement maintains the distinction: they are “acting like” animals.

    You also make the mistake of seeing our argument as trying to make a zygote into something equal to the rest of us. This is not true. Though you seek to argue that we aren’t the same, we concur with the obvious, that we are the same. You wish to speak in terms of the zygote’s “experience” and like I said earlier, they experience as they are supposed to for a person at that stage of development. We do not think in terms of what they will become, but we recognize what they indeed are: people.


  7. Hi Neil, I can make it pretty easy on myself here: I don’t subscribe to the doctrines of karma or rebirth. Karma restricted to the *psychological* realm makes good sense — every kind or greedy thought or action brightens or darkens one’s state of mind, and conditions one’s future actions, how people respond to one, etc. — but universal justice is a different story. I don’t think an anvil will fall on my head in 50 years because I stepped on an ant today.

    I can name even uglier implications of taking karma literally. There are those who believe that an oppressed people, or a war-torn nation, or an underclass, or lepers or amputees, collectively find themselves in such a state because of past unvirtuousness.

    But Buddhism has teachings on the nature of mind, the nature of the self, the mechanics of mental suffering, how to bring about compassion, which penetrate to the heart of the human condition in the most liberating way. And since Buddhist traditions claim to have come by their wisdom through contemplation rather than revelation, one feels more easily invited to reckon with their truths and falsehoods for oneself.

    (I meant real world evidence that Christians have purer hearts than anybody else, not evidence for Christianity’s historical or metaphysical claims. There IS evidence that those who pray much and deeply enjoy substantial positive brain changes; even more so in the case of meditators; but this is independent of religious affiliation).


  8. Sea,

    Yes, Singer does use less vulgar sounding examples of how infanticide could be reasonable. But they are used merely to hide the fact that he argues for the right of a parent to kill their infant for any reason at all. They are not persons, are totally dependent upon their parents, and therefore their lives can be terminated by their caretakers. This argument is used by Singer in the case of handicaps and the elderly as well. He’s also open to killing “infants” of up to 2 years old.

    Basically, Singer’s example of extreme cases is akin to abortion proponents using a frightened teenage girl as the example of the need for abortions while neglecting to point out that the great majority of abortions are performed on women between the ages of 20-34.

    Now, the scale of responsibility of which you write is accepted for animals. But I’m not sure how that applies to human beings. In fact, the irony here is that while Singer argues that it’s ok to kill certain humans because they fail his person test, he is one of the world’s greatest defenders of Great Apes, believing that since they are very close to humans genetically, they should be protected as humans are. Chimpanzees meet his person tests, but human beings don’t.

    This is the problem with defining personhood. You invariably end up killing actual people.


    1. Hi Cameron,

      If you’re killing an actual person, something has obviously gone wrong in your thinking about personhood! (“Dependency,” for instance, seems tangential to me: consciousness, feeling, sensitivity, aspiration, is central). I can’t speak very knowledgeably on Singer, having read only tidbits on the internet and none of his books. Heard him speak once. One thing I’ve wondered from those tidbits is, does he think too narrowly about quality of life in the case of disabled people, for instance? Extreme discomfort or limitation can indeed mean a life of the rarest pleasure and unremitting pain, but in another instance the sufferer might realize deep joy of what is always free even amidst physical limitation (a Zen saying has it that “freedom is the elbow not bending outwards”): his trials might even burnish his simplicity of heart, his strength and compassion. The possibilities of a human life are mysteriously flexible and varied; humility is called for. There’s the infinite perfection of things just as they are to be considered, the peace that passeth understanding, that sort of thing.

      I doubt “personhood” could ever be a mathematically exact category. I rather think all conscious life exists on a spectrum of complexity in terms of its ability to suffer and aspire. Maybe an amoeba has a first guttering spark of personhood. Common sense leaves ample room to recognize both that the difference between humans and other animals is huge, and that it’s one of quantity and not quality.

      Isn’t it going too far to say that Singer wants parents to have the right to kill their infant “for any reason at all”…? Maybe not. But as I understood it his guiding concern is always with reducing unnecessary suffering, not some kind of libertine self-centeredness.

      You do point to complexities that are very difficult to weigh. There’s no avoiding them in the case of animal testing etc. though, and I think there’s no avoiding them in the cases of abortion or euthanasia either.


    2. In my reply to Cameron above, “the rarest pleasure” should probably read “infrequent pleasure” or some such to avoid confusion.


    3. Seas, non-aspirating unconscious people are fine to murder? I should tell that to my brother, the paramedic. It will make his job a lot easier. Instead of trying to revive them, he’ll just give them a lethal dose of morphine and save the state some money.


  9. Neil,

    Read the law carefully. It says what is sure to happen. The LORD never explicitly instructs man to commit these acts, because he has already commanded the right does not belong with us. Thou shall not kill! And is one of the shortest verses on record.

    He is the beginning and the end, and only He knows when death is justified. Once we learn this fact, we will begin to understand.

    Looking for implicities to justify sin only makes the problem worse and why abortion and the dealth penalty will ALWAYS EXIST! Man is too proud to admit he has no business casting judgement when he wrought with sin!

    Yet he has the nerve to point and shake his finger at another faith as if he is justified. Paleeze!


    1. Mizclark, I have read it carefully. You are confused on this point. God gave many commands and the associated punishments. I don’t see how you can say they conflict with the command not to murder.


      1. Neil,

        It is simple. Many people do not understand context, implication, and inference.

        When God says, though shalt not kill, people that study his Word realize it means not to commit murder against innocent human-beings.

        The same God then instructs the Israelites to utterly destroy other nations. Conflict? Only if you misapply the “thou shalt not kill” commandment.

        Thou shalt not kill does not:

        Apply to soldiers fighting wars.
        Governments in executing criminals.
        Someone killing in self defense.
        The killing of animals (non-human beings).

        All of the above have been condemned by those that do not understand the scripture by misapplying “Thou shalt not kill”.

        Like I said earlier, Miz Clark is a wolf in sheep’s clothing………..


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