When asked about her stance on abortion during the 2008 election, candidate Hillary Clinton said she believes
“that the potential for life begins at conception. I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out.
But for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved. And, therefore, I have concluded, after great concern and searching my own mind and heart over many years, that our task should be in this pluralistic, diverse life of ours in this nation that individuals must be entrusted to make this profound decision, because the alternative would be such an intrusion of government authority that it would be very difficult to sustain in our kind of open society. And as some of you’ve heard me discuss before, I think abortion should remain legal, but it needs to be safe and rare.”
One could easily multiply the examples of similar responses among Secretary Clinton’s political friends. There is a certain modus operandi to addressing moral issues that begins with a verbal sleight of hand. Very subtly, the former Secretary of State moved the grounds of argument against abortion. By mentioning her Methodist upbringing, she is suggesting that abortion is tied to one’s faith. She further cements her position by mentioning a “pluralistic” society. The unspoken assumption is that knowledge derived from faith is entirely subjective and therefore should not be forced upon someone else. This approach is the genesis of the “I am personally opposed, but…” defense.
As people of faith who see abortion for the true horror that it is, we need to demand that the issue no longer be discussed in terms of faith. Instead we must move the grounds on which the intellectual battle for life is fought—grounds based on human reason alone. In truth, the only religious part of the argument is that we believe that man is intrinsically valuable because he is made in the image and likeness of God. Although it might be for a different reason, even the Constitution in the 14th Amendment recognizes that man has equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, I think the majority of pro-lifers fail to recognize this and cannot defend their position using anything other than religious reasoning.
The argument can be put forward in a very simple manner and we can gain some traction in this sound-bite culture by being able to make it succinctly. It has three simple premises. The first is a scientific premise and it is that human life begins at conception. This is a scientific premise and you would be hard pressed to find a single biologist or doctor that would say otherwise. In fact when Congress investigated this scientific premise in 1981 they found that “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 writing” (Human Life Bill 1981). Most Pro-Abortionists will concede the same point. Long before his conversion, the founder of NARAL, Bernard Nathanson said, “Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us.” This coming from a man who admitted to having a hand in some 60,000 abortions.
Despite the use of the term “Fertilized Egg”, the newly conceived child is biologically distinct from his or her parents and has his or her own DNA. Now the only thing necessary for growth and development is the same thing we need—water, food, oxygen and a healthy interaction with its natural environment.
The second premise is the Moral Premise. All humans have the right to life because they are humans. Steven Schwarz developed the SLED acronym to defend the moral premise. He looks at the four main ways that a pre-born child differs from a full grown adult and sees if they carry any moral weight. The four things are Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency
Does the size of the person affect their status as persons? At 7”3, Hasheem Thabeet is the tallest player in the NBA. Is he more of a person than me because I am only 5”8? The answer obviously is no. Does the level of development affect the moral status of the person? Is a 6 year old less of a person than a 20 year old? Again, no reasonable person would say that. Does it matter where someone is as to whether they are a person or not? Is a person in the Amazon less of a person than a person in the U.S.? Quite obviously the answer is no. Finally, does the fact that one is dependent on others for survival determine their personhood? Is a 14 year old on dialysis less of a person than a healthy 12 year old? No. So in each of the four physical differences there is no moral difference. So then then neither the size, nor the level of development, nor the environment nor the dependency should have any moral bearing on the personhood of the preborn child.
I mentioned the third premise earlier and that is the legal premise based on the 14th Amendment. Justice Harry Blackmum mentioned the same thing in the Court’s opinion in Roe v Wade when he said, “(If the) suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”
Keep in mind that to refute this argument, one must reject one of the three premises. The legal premise is the one that virtually everyone agrees upon. It used to be that the scientific premise was the one that was rejected, but given our culture’s obsession with science it is attacked less and less. Now the second premise is the one that is attacked by saying that a human being must perform an arbitrary set of functions to gain personhood. Not surprisingly, it is those in power who ultimately decide what those functions should be. That is why the question of abortion is ultimately related to Euthanasia as well. All they have done is apply the logic that allows abortion and extended it beyond life in the womb.
It is worth addressing as well Mrs. Clinton’s comment regarding the child being “potential life.” This is another common verbal sleight of hand that should be exposed. For anything to be a potential “X” it must be an actual “Y.” The question is, if it is not a child, what is it currently? Now we get into uncharted waters because no one who is in favor of abortion can actually tell you what it currently is. They can’t rely on science—no reputable embryologist refers to it as a clump of cells and science already tells us it is a human organism. So they usually just keep the label “potential.”
In the end, abortion becomes a huge issue, and not just for the women who have one and the children who are killed. It sets up a mindset in which the practice of arbitrarily drawing lines defining personhood becomes the norm. People are often scandalized when someone like Princeton Professor Peter Singer advocates for a 28-day waiting period in which it would be morally permissible to kill your newborn. But he is nothing if not logically consistent. Why must we draw the line at birth? In truth the only clear dividing line is at conception and we must do all within our power to show why this is the case.