Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is the Abortion Debate Over?

Micah Watson, over at Public Discourse (where some of the clearest and best writing on social issues on the net can be found) claims that the abortion debate is indeed over. Questions that were fuzzy 40 years ago when abortion was legalized are now clear and progress in science has steadily supported the pro-life position. Here is part of his argument.

"Consider the basic pro-life argument as it has developed over the last thirty years. Though there are many versions and several sophisticated philosophers who have made the case in more formal terms, the argument rests on three simple fundamental beliefs. The first is normative, the second medical or scientific, and the third is political.

The normative premise is that human life is a fundamental good and all human beings have a right to life. Some philosophers hold that this is a right not to be intentionally killed, though the killing of a human being may be accepted if it is the foreseen but unintended consequence of another justified action. Other philosophers do not completely rule out intending to kill a human being, but would take culpability and desert into account. Regardless, pro-lifers generally agree that unborn human beings have a right to life that cannot be violated.

The scientific belief that ties into the normative premise is the simple medical fact that embryos and fetuses are human beings. There is no longer, strictly speaking, any debate about “when life begins.” That question has been answered not by religious authority but by the disciplines of human biology and embryology. A human life begins at the moment of conception when a distinct and complete, though immature, human being forms from the joining of her parents’ gametes.

What follows from the conjoining of the scientific and normative beliefs is disarmingly simple: all human beings have a right to life; unborn human beings are human beings; thus unborn human beings have a right to life. When you add the basic political belief that the purpose of governments and laws is to protect fundamental human rights, you arrive at the basic pro-life position.

Read it all here.

I sense discouragement among pro-lifers during these days. Yes, the Republican Party has let us down. That was to be expected. Yes, the Democratic Party is trying desperately to pretend that the war is over and they have won, just like the ayatollah's in Iran. But the truth is hard to keep down forever. Those Americans who will not surrender to nihilism and violent self-will need to persevere in the culture wars. They must keep on praying, believing and working. The rest of the Western world has run up the white flag on sanctity of life issues. But America remains in play; the last act has not yet been written in our civilization. Pray that God will hold back judgment because of a righteous remmnant. And pray for revival. We have won the argument; what a pity it would be to lose the war.


Andrew said...

I think Watson is missing an important premise:

all biological human beings are persons.

That's an assumption we pro-lifers make (and argue for), but it's the one that's been challenged since Mary Anne Warren's article, at least.

Craig Carter said...

The beauty of his argument is its simplicity and his refusal to treat the question of personhood as central is what makes his argument morally convincing. This way of proceding is the only way to avoid the killing of the socially undesirable.

He does not raise the question of personhood because it is basically a rhetorical way of obscuring the real issue. To ask whether or not a biological human being is a "person" is to assume that some persons are not synonomous with human beings, i.e. that some human beings can justifiably be regarded as non-persons. This assumption is itself pernicious. Even to raise such a question is to have already begun the totalitarian and evil process of separating out from the common mass of mankind the sub-humans destined for extermination. Even to believe that a debate must be held about who are persons (the comotase?, the elderly?, the senile?, the terminally ill?, the retarded?, those of the wrong race?, etc.) is to have already conceded the central point - namely, that the class of biological humans is not necessarily coincident with the class of those who should be regarded as persons. (Remember what the magisterium thundered in A Canticle for Liebowitz about the misbegotten? If is is born of woman it must be suffered to live for what is born of man is man.)

To think that the raising of the question of how to distinguish between biological humans who are persons and those who are not is a benign or theoretical question is, in the light of the history of the 20th century, naive in the extreme.

The fact that this challenge is raised is itself sufficient condemnation of the pro-choice position. This, rather than engaging with the argment on its own ground, is what needs to be said, in my opinion.

Andrew said...

I agree entirely with you about the substantive problem with questioning the premise, but I don`t think pro-choicers today will, so I`m not sure we can honestly say the `debate` is over... I guess it depends on what it being over means...

Craig Carter said...

What I'm trying to say is that the rational debate is concluded and a clear winner has emerged. But the struggle for justice is of course not over. The struggle is a spiritual one and it consists of a demonic self-assertion against a submission to natural law and the God who stands behind it.

Nothing is as important to this phase of the struggle as prayer. To think that the pro-choice side now is merely conceptually confused is not possible, although I grant that there may be some stragglers who are like Japanese soldiers on remote island who don't know that the war is over. So some rational explanations are clearly in order for such individuals. But those in leadership and the activists and intellectuals are beyond the reach of reason. Now is the time for active witness, holiness and maybe martyrdom.

Naomi said...

Thanks for this post Dr. Carter. You're right that a lot of people {myself included} have felt beaten down by the issue and have retreated {but not surrendered}
It's like a renewed source of energy to know that the pro-life position is becoming less of an 'opinion' and more of a fact of life.

Suzanne said...

Actually, I think the pro-life movements around the world are getting stronger precisely because of America's example.