In the last post we discussed just who in the abortion argument is forcing odd views of human value on whom. Pro-life claims enjoy at least two obvious advantages over views supporting abortion which dehumanize the embryo and fetus; they are more simple claims and more inclusive claims. Neither of these advantages is dependent on a religious component.
Pro-life arguments are simpler in that they claim all human beings ought to be treated with the same basic dignity grounded in our shared humanity regardless of stage of development or immediately practicable capacities. I have been me through all stages of my life and will be me all along the continuum of my physical existence. I was once an embryo, a fetus, a newborn, a child, etc. Abortion supporters who deny the humanity and dignity of early human life do so by multiplying entities, creating a living human life that lacks an essential quality of personhood, bifurcating all human existence into two different periods. At all times we are a human animal and at particular times during our existence we are a human animal and a person.1 There was once an embryo whose material I would eventually come to share, but I didn’t show up till later. The embryo was not me. The fetus was not me. At some point I showed up and the animal and I now co-exist.
The pro-life view is more inclusive because it places demands on all of us for all of us. It requires us to make room in our moral considerations for every member of the human family and forbids creating lines of demarcation between some humans and others. An inclusive view of human value isn’t impressed by the ease with which we can destroy life or the opportunities that might be created with that destruction. It seeks to protect all of us by acknowledging all of us, including human life at the earliest stages of development. It doesn’t require extraordinary action toward early human life but demands a negative obligation; we must refrain from lethal action against other human lives. That is our minimal duty to one another. The embryo and fetus are one of us. This view protects our egalitarian commitments on human value and best explains our intuition of universal human dignity across cultures and nations.2
At this point, someone inclined to support abortion might argue they accept the humanity of nascent human life and the proposition we should not kill each other without extreme justification. The embryo and fetus are one of us. These abortion supporters differ in that they believe the biological requirement and disruptive nature of pregnancy and childbirth rises to the level of extreme justification. It justifies killing nascent human life even if that life is one of us.
Kate Greasley, a pro-choice legal and philosophical scholar, rejects this argument on both legal and moral grounds in her book Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law. We all accept that pregnancy and childbirth are intensely disruptive and demanding without accepting those facts justify destroying human life. She argues the standards of justifiable homicide are legally established and represent an understandably high bar. This is an important distinction to make.
We concede, as Greasley does, that the demands of pregnancy (physical, emotional, social, etc.) are high and shouldn’t be trivialized. People regularly endure all manner of genuine hardships which fail to rise to the level of justifying killing another human being to alleviate those hardships. As Greasley writes, to justify homicide, the act of killing must be both necessary and proportional. In the case of pregnancy, abortion fails both standards.
First, it isn’t necessary for the early human life to die. The two lives are not being pitted against each other in a winner take all scenario. The embryo or fetus isn’t, under normal conditions, threatening the life of the mother. It isn’t openly attacking the health of the woman. It is merely growing in cooperation with the woman’s body like every other human being did before it. There are other solutions available to avoid a lifetime of motherhood that don’t require the death of the unborn human.
Second, killing the fetus isn’t proportional to the inconvenience of its continued maturation. However physically and socially taxing pregnancy is, under normal conditions it isn’t as bad as being killed. We don’t justify the killing of others to protect our comfort or career path. The hardships the woman must endure in pregnancy fall far short of the hardship of the unborn human being killed. The act of killing the unborn is disproportionate to the cost of carrying to delivery.
Third, pregnancy isn’t an extreme event. Pregnancy creates a biologically unique relationship between the pregnant woman and her offspring that defies analogy3, yet it is so ubiquitous, it is how every human being alive came into existence. It is not a disruption of life, but the means by which human life extends beyond this generation. It may be weird, but it is how we all got here. Greasley claims It is odd to take how all human life begins and recast that first moment of existence as the beginning of a violent aggressor’s invasive assault on pregnant women, or as we have called them all throughout human history, the mother.
It isn’t forcing religion on people to say that pregnancy, under normal conditions, does not rise to the level of threat necessary to claim justifiable homicide. The absolute commitment to the belief women ought to be free to kill their unborn children even if the fetus or embryo are one of us, in spite of lacking necessity and proportionality and the complete absence of an extreme threat upon the life and physical health of another human being, is the dogmatic assertion. Just as when we were told we must trust them that nonpersonal humans exist, we now must trust them again. The unborn may be fully human, but society is free to kill them for reasons that could never justify killing any other member of the human family.
Again, it is understandable that commitments to legal abortion would encourage abortion supporters to embrace some of these arguments. What cannot be tolerated is for those people to pretend their views enjoy some privilege of being especially reasonable while those who disagree are simply forcing religion on others. Although I am religious in that I am a committed Christian, I don’t see that any of the arguments discussed so far appeal to my beliefs about God and man. In fact, they just make common sense to me in a way the counter arguments do not.