|Fetus at approx. 14 weeks gestational age|
(1) It is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human life.
(2) A human fetus/embryo is innocent, human, and alive.
(3) Therefore, it is always wrong to intentionally kill a human fetus/embryo.
(4) Abortion is the intentional killing of a human fetus/embryo.
(5) Therefore, abortion is always wrong.
Until fairly recently, my exposure to abortion debate had given me the impression that most people who were pro-choice rejected premise (2).
In the last few weeks, I've had two separate discussion with old-time friends from high school regarding abortion, both of whom are pro-choice (at least partially).
The first friend rejected premise (1), specifically the word "human". She argued that the level of consciousness of which a particular organism was capable, and not the species of that particular organism, determined the morality of taking the life of another organism. In other words, the fact that a human fetus/embryo is human isn't as relevant as the fact that, at least in early stages, the human fetus/embryo isn't conscious at all or seems to have a very low level of consciousness. The more conscious a particular organism is, whatever it's species may be, the more wrong it is to intentionally kill it. Humans are not protected so much as consciousness is, wherever it is found. So, for example, intentionally killing an adult chimpanzee is more wrong than to intentionally kill a human fetus since an adult chimpanzee seems much more conscious than a human fetus.
Interestingly, as a result, this person held that it was wrong to kill human fetuses in the third trimester, since they seem to her to have a high enough level of consciousness. This person was even willing to admit that she wasn't certain in her assessment that it would be morally permissible to intentionally kill an early stage human fetus and that as a result she would never get an abortion herself, although she believed that other people should have the legal right to do so.
"As [to] other exceptions to the principle of unkillable innocence I suppose [it] would be any situation where the inaction resulted in greater harm."He then indicated that he thought there could possibly be situations in war where it would be morally permissible to intentionally kill innocent civilians, and concluded that
"the fact that at least 2 valid situations exist implies there may be more."I am not intending to single out or mock in any way these two particular people, both of whom are thoughtful people, and with both of whom I have had cordial conversations. And to be fair, these discussions were in Facebook comments and messages, and so don't necessarily represent these two individuals' best, well-thought-out, carefully crafted ideas.
And my friends are not alone. Read what these two educated, well thought out, pro-choice thinkers have to say:
"[The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life."
"As the evidence about early “viability” mounted, and as advances in medicine made it ever easier for even a distressingly premature fetus to survive outside its mother, the [abortion] argument showed a tendency to shift. Suddenly, we were talking trimesters. And there was no longer much dispute about whether the unborn subject was alive. It certainly couldn’t be dead, since the whole battle consisted in how or whether to stop its growing and developing (not metastasizing). Now and then there would be a tussle over whether it was a fully “human” life, but this was casuistry. What other species of life could it be? Some states even announced laws on fetal personhood, conferring the moral equivalent of citizenship on every fertilized egg, thereby presumably extending to it the warm embrace of the equal-protection clause and voting rights at age 17¼.
"That the most partially formed human embryo is both human and alive has now been confirmed, in an especially vivid sense, by the new debate over stem-cell research and the bioethics of cloning. If an ailing or elderly person can be granted a new lease on life by a transfusion of this cellular material, then it is obviously not random organic matter. The original embryonic “blastocyst” may be a clump of 64 to 200 cells that is only five days old. But all of us began our important careers in that form, and every needful encoding for life is already present in the apparently inchoate. We are the first generation to have to confront this as a certain knowledge. [...] By rightly expanding our definition of what is alive and what is human, we have also accepted that there may be a conflict of rights between a potential human and an actual one."I have no statistics regarding the reasons given by those who are pro-choice as to why abortion is permissible (if you do, please let me know in the comments), and so I have no idea whether the sentiments from the examples given above are new or old, widespread or fringe (or somewhere in between). But these four examples, two from recent personal anecdotes, and two from highly acclaimed thinkers, should give us pause. A basic moral principle, via abortion, has been cracked.
Is abortion really being defended by saying that it's not always wrong to intentionally kill any innocent human life?
If it's not always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human life, then it's not always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human life. Think about that. Is this really a principle that we want to reject? Its application in the intentional killing of millions of young humans should offer sufficient horror. But if it doesn't, its necessary rejection as a basic moral principle, applicable in situations far beyond abortion, should.
This is not a slippery slope argument. I am not bundling otherwise unconnected issues and declaring without reason that if you accept one you have to accept the other. I am pointing out that a principle is being rejected. If that principle is rejected, there are consequences far beyond the first context that it is rejected. Its rejection affects any other context in which the original principle was relevant.
If, as my first friend argued, a human's life only gains protection when it acquires certain capabilities, such as consciousness, how much of that capability is needed? How is it measured? Who makes the determination? What other capabilities might a human need in order to be protected? We can't put further conditions on humanity.
If, as my second friend argued, an innocent human life can be sacrificed for the good of the more powerful (if the killers weren't more powerful, they wouldn't be able to kill) in one context, there's no principled reason why an innocent human life couldn't be sacrificed for the good of the more powerful in another context. To say that the principle would only apply to abortion would be ad hoc. And my second friend admitted as much: "the fact that at least 2 valid situations exist implies there may be more."
'There may be more.'
Lord have mercy.