Recently I was reading an article on the Roe v. Wade issue in the “National Review,” a conservative (and Catholic-sympathetic) magazine, and it made me think about the topic.
People opposed to abortions call themselves “pro-life,” and their position seems to rest on a number of fallacies. I think some of these need to be made explicit.
First, one point they continuously make is that “life begins at conception.” Actually, it doesn’t. A sperm cell and an egg cell are “alive,” no less than is a fertilized egg. Biology points out that life comes only from life, and spontaneous generation was disproved many decades ago, even centuries ago.
But even if life began at conception, is it always improper to take a life? We eat meat, which comes from killed animals, and even vegetarians eat food which was produced by killing plants (which are certainly “alive” in any sense of the word)! So the question boils down to whether the taking of a human life is involved. And then the question arises as to what is a human being.
I have seen it claimed that what is created at conception is an “independent genotype.” And certainly it is true that the fertilized egg is different, genetically, from either sperm or egg, and also different, genetically, from either father or mother. But if what makes a separate person is an “independent genotype,” you are denying the personhood of an identical twin! This would mean that killing one of a pair of identical twins is no worse than amputating a leg. I cannot see any argument based on genotypic identity that would differentiate the two. So there is no way that this basis for characterizing personhood can fly.
It is to me quite obvious that the only way to define “a new human being” is to ask if it is capable of surviving without being connected to the mother’s body through a placenta. This is the “viability criterion,” and no other definition makes sense. So let the anti-abortion group assert that the fetus can be delivered and survive, and if this is so, it would be unethical to abort it.
The argument has been made that “what modern medicine can keep alive” continually changes. I do not deny this. But just as we do not try to keep alive someone who is incurably ill when he has passed a certain point, and this point changes as modern medicine improves, the point at which abortion is foreclosed by viability can change with time. This is not inconsistent.
Some people wish to impose their beliefs on others. Whether these are Catholics who want others to deny abortions based on Catholic definitions of “a human life” or others who want Catholic doctors to abort when it violates their scruples, this is wrong. But let the individuals involved make the decisions.
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