PBA121H: Why Truth Matters in the Abortion Debate

Imagine being offered some jelly beans from a bowl—which ones would you choose? The red ones? The orange ones? Perhaps a few people would even choose the black licorice ones. In the long run, of course, it wouldn’t really matter which of these jelly beans you chose.

But what if some of the jelly beans in the bowl were poisoned, and making the wrong choice would be lethal? Would it matter then which flavour you chose? Would you simply dismiss the claim, that the beans were poisoned, as a personal belief and allow people to eat the beans anyway? Or would you verify the claim first by testing if it is true?

"That's just your opinion."

A lot of Canadians think moral debates like abortion are like a bowl of jelly beans. As the belief goes, we can choose whatever flavour of belief we prefer because in the long run, what we choose is the truth for us.

Abortion advocate, Joyce Arthur emphasizes this point in an article titled, the Fetus Focus Fallacy:

We all have our own opinions about what the moral status of the fetus might be. Some people believe a fertilized egg is a full human being with an absolute right to life that supercedes any right of the woman. Others believe that a fetus attains moral value only after it becomes viable, or upon birth. But that's all these beliefs are - opinions. There's no way to decide between them, because they're entirely subjective and emotional. Therefore, the only opinion that counts is that of the pregnant woman. The status of her fetus and any moral value accorded to it is entirely her call. A fetus becomes a human being when the woman carrying it decides it does [italics in original quote].1)

In other words, because there is disagreement about what the fetus is and how we should value the pre-born, she believes the pre-born have no objective human rights. We can treat them however we want. On the other hand, she argues, because there is no disagreement about the pregnant women’s status and her rights, her rights are objective. Pregnant women then should decide for themselves what value their fetuses have and no one else can question that decision; after all, pregnant women are the most affected by the fetus.

Moral Claims vs. Preference Claims

But claims don’t become subjective just because there is a lack of consensus. Every right, including the equality rights Arthur discusses, were, at one point in history, controversial. Not everyone agreed with the notion that women should be treated equally to men. However, no one would argue that because there was a lack of consensus that that meant there was no right or wrong answer to the question of equality rights.

What would Arthur say if we argued that because there is lack of consensus on the status of women around the world, societies should continue oppressing women? In fact, the reason why we call certain actions “rights” is because they cannot be taken away by society, even by a majority of that society.

When pro-lifers claim that abortion kills children, we are not saying we do not prefer abortion, just as someone would say they do not prefer a certain flavor of jelly bean. Rather, we are claiming that abortion is lethal, just like a poisoned candy is lethal.

"There's no way to decide between them...": Why do pro-lifers believe what we believe?

Scientifically and philosophically, pro-lifers make the objective claim that a human being's life begins at fertilization. And just as we would not offer to eat any of the jelly beans without testing the claim of poison first, we should not allow abortions without testing pro-lifers’ claim first. Abortion advocates cannot simply turn the objective claim pro-lifers make into a subjective claim, because that is not the kind of claim being made.

FIXME is this stuff needed? Interestingly, if each person decides on the value of the pre-born, why does Arthur insist that pro-lifers are wrong to believe that the pre-born are valuable human beings? Why does she bother correcting us if all we’re doing is stating our preference? But, of course, you can’t correct something that is merely a preference—it’s like saying it is wrong to like yellow jelly beans.

And if pro-lifers claim to believe that the pre-born are valuable human beings, how then could she expect us to not want to stop abortion? Why say we personally believe that the pre-born are human beings in one breath and then say it is okay for others to kill them?

Science-based Public Policy

At one of the very first houses we approached, a young man came out, sat down on his porch, and began going through our pamphlet. When my colleague Devorah asked him what his opinion on abortion was, he said that he was pro-choice. But as we explained that human beings have human rights, and that science tells us when the human life begins, he began to nod. “I see what you guys are saying,” he murmured as he looked at the pamphlet.

“What we’re advocating for,” I told him, “is science-based public policy. The term ‘pro-choice’ means many things to many people—some think abortion should be legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, and some think it should be legal in only a few circumstances. So in a multicultural society with a wide range of philosophical and religious beliefs on the value of human life, shouldn’t we as a society rely on a solid, scientific benchmark for when human rights begin—at the beginning of the human being’s life?” He agreed, and in the space of a fifteen-minute conversation, he went from pro-choice to pro-life. He gave us his contact information, and told us that he’d like to talk about abortion with his friends because he liked “planting seeds.” - JVM2)

The truth of the matter is, the pro-lifers’ claim about abortion is a truth claim—it cannot be simply dismissed as our opinion just because that is merely the opinion of abortion advocates like Joyce Arthur. “This is why the popular bumper sticker “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” misses the point entirely. It confuses the two types of claims. (Try this: “Don’t like slavery? Don’t own a slave!”).” Life Training Institute

Don't force your morality on others!

Abortion advocates often argue against legal restrictions on abortion because they say it is imposing someone’s morals on other people. Furthermore, they argue, the law shouldn’t impose moral or religious beliefs.

Moral Relativism: A Self-Defeating Argument

But in making that argument they have made their moral belief clear: According to them, it is wrong to impose one’s values on others. Moreover, since they insist that this imposition is wrong for everyone, they are actually forcing that moral belief on others. They are doing exactly what they say is wrong to do.

Furthermore, they have no qualms using the law to impose their beliefs on others. This is why Canadians pay for legal abortions through our taxes. In fact, we even pay for abortions performed in the US on Canadians. In some cases, these trips to the US are even paid for by taxpayers. Clearly abortion advocates have no problems forcing their morality on pro-lifers.

The Obligation to Interfere: Aren't Some Choices Wrong?

Furthermore, governments “impose” morality on society every day by outlawing such acts as kidnapping, rape, and theft. These laws are based on a morality that respects all human beings and that seek to protect vulnerable people from those who would choose to harm them. These kinds of laws were created and imposed by the government, even on those who disagree with them. Abortion advocates, however, don’t seem to mind the law imposing this morality on others.

The most important question then is not, “May governments impose laws on others?” They already do that. The question we need to ask is this: “At which point can and should the government act?”

If the pre-born are human beings with human rights like us, and we believe that human beings should be protected under the law, then isn’t it legitimate for the law to protect the pre-born, even if it imposes that morality on others?

Just as we protect the lives of the born, shouldn’t we protect the lives of the pre-born? If we can impose our morality on men by making it illegal for them to rape women, what’s wrong with imposing our morality on women by making it illegal for them to kill their pre-born offspring?

It can be uncomfortable to confront people with the truth. In a pluralistic society such as Canada, many desire to respect the opinions and decisions of others. However, it is neither truthful nor loving to allow people to commit acts of violence against other people.

Shouldn't we stop people from making lethal choices?

Insert Keri-Ann's testimony https://www.facebook.com/canadiancbr/videos/10158865266525051/

In the 18th century, a British man named Thomas Clarkson was researching the issue of slavery in order to enter an essay competition. He chose the topic of the slave trade—not, as he said, because he had strong feelings on the matter, but for the purpose of “obtaining literary honour.” It was what Clarkson discovered that horrified him. His eyes ran across descriptions of filthy slave ships with bellies full of suffering humanity and belching the stench of death. He read of slaves being tortured and then burned like used farm equipment. The sheer scale of the tragedy he had uncovered hiding in plain sight gripped him. The historian Adam Hochschild recalls Clarkson’s turmoil:

“Long months of doubt followed his roadside moment of revelation. Could a lone, inexperienced young man have 'that solid judgement…to qualify him to undertake a task of such magnitude and importance; –and with whom was I to unite?' But each time he doubted, the result was the same: 'I walked frequently into the woods, that I might think on the subject in solitude, and find relief in my mind there. But there the question still recurred, ‘Are these things true?’—Still the answer followed as instantaneously ‘They are.’—Still the result accompanied it, ‘Then surely some person should interfere.’”3)

On the issue of abortion, our society must face the same kinds of questions which Clarkson faced. We must examine the scientific facts about when human life begins, and examine the evidence of what abortion does to pre-born children. Because if abortion really is the legal killing of 300 children every day–then surely we should interfere.