BREAKING DOWN CARL SAGAN’S LOGIC ON ABORTION Part 18 “Roe v. Wade changed American law on abortion. It permits abortion at the request of the woman without restriction in the first trimester and…It allows states to forbid abortion in the third trimester, except when there’s a serious threat to the life or health of the woman” (My 1995 correspondence with Sagan) Francis J. Beckwith vs Carl Sagan

The last few posts have dealt with material from Adrian Rogers and Francis Schaeffer, But today Bernard Nathanson testimony is given.

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Francis Schaeffer and Adrian Rogers

Carl Sagan pictured below:



Recently I have been revisiting my correspondence in 1995 with the famous astronomer Carl Sagan who I had the privilege to correspond with in 1994, 1995 and 1996. In 1996 I had a chance to respond to his December 5, 1995letter on January 10, 1996 and I never heard back from him again since his cancer returned and he passed away later in 1996. Below is what Carl Sagan wrote to me in his December 5, 1995 letter:

Thanks for your recent letter about evolution and abortion. The correlation is hardly one to one; there are evolutionists who are anti-abortion and anti-evolutionists who are pro-abortion.You argue that God exists because otherwise we could not understand the world in our consciousness. But if you think God is necessary to understand the world, then why do you not ask the next question of where God came from? And if you say “God was always here,” why not say that the universe was always here? On abortion, my views are contained in the enclosed article (Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan {1990}, “The Question of Abortion,” Parade Magazine, April 22.)

I was introduced to when reading a book by Francis Schaeffer called HE IS THERE AND HE IS NOT SILENT written in 1968. 

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Francis Schaeffer

I was blessed with the opportunity to correspond with Dr. Sagan, and in his December 5, 1995 letter Dr. Sagan went on to tell me that he was enclosing his article “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. I am going to respond to several points made in that article. Here is a portion of Sagan’s article (here is a link to the whole article):

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(both Adrian Rogers and Francis Schaeffer mentioned Carl Sagan in their books and that prompted me to write Sagan and expose him to their views.


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Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan pictured above

 “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”

by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The issue had been decided years ago. The court had chosen the middle ground. You’d think the fight was over. Instead, there are mass rallies, bombings and intimidation, murders of workers at abortion clinics, arrests, intense lobbying, legislative drama, Congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, major political parties almost defining themselves on the issue, and clerics threatening politicians with perdition. Partisans fling accusations of hypocrisy and murder. The intent of the Constitution and the will of God are equally invoked. Doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes. The contending factions call on science to bolster their positions. Families are divided, husbands and wives agree not to discuss it, old friends are no longer speaking. Politicians check the latest polls to discover the dictates of their consciences. Amid all the shouting, it is hard for the adversaries to hear one another. Opinions are polarized. Minds are closed.


Is it wrong to abort a pregnancy? Always? Sometimes? Never? How do we decide? We wrote this article to understand better what the contending views are and to see if we ourselves could find a position that would satisfy us both. Is there no middle ground? We had to weigh the arguments of both sides for consistency and to pose test cases, some of which are purely hypothetical. If in some of these tests we seem to go too far, we ask the reader to be patient with us–we’re trying to stress the various positions to the breaking point to see their weaknesses and where they fail.

In contemplative moments, nearly everyone recognizes that the issue is not wholly one-sided. Many partisans of differing views, we find, feel some disquiet, some unease when confronting what’s behind the opposing arguments. (This is partly why such confrontations are avoided.) And the issue surely touches on deep questions: What are our responses to one another? Should we permit the state to intrude into the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives? Where are the boundaries of freedom? What does it mean to be human?

Of the many actual points of view, it is widely held–especially in the media, which rarely have the time or the inclination to make fine distinctions–that there are only two: “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” This is what the two principal warring camps like to call themselves, and that’s what we’ll call them here. In the simplest characterization, a pro-choicer would hold that the decision to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman; the state has no right to interfere. And a pro-lifer would hold that, from the moment of conception, the embryo or fetus is alive; that this life imposes on us a moral obligation to preserve it; and that abortion is tantamount to murder. Both names–pro-choice and pro-life–were picked with an eye toward influencing those whose minds are not yet made up: Few people wish to be counted either as being against freedom of choice or as opposed to life. Indeed, freedom and life are two of our most cherished values, and here they seem to be in fundamental conflict.

Let’s consider these two absolutist positions in turn. A newborn baby is surely the same being it was just before birth. There ‘s good evidence that a late-term fetus responds to sound–including music, but especially its mother’s voice. It can suck its thumb or do a somersault. Occasionally, it generates adult brain-wave patterns. Some people claim to remember being born, or even the uterine environment. Perhaps there is thought in the womb. It’s hard to maintain that a transformation to full personhood happens abruptly at the moment of birth. Why, then, should it be murder to kill an infant the day after it was born but not the day before?

As a practical matter, this isn’t very important: Less than 1 percent of all tabulated abortions in the United States are listed in the last three months of pregnancy (and, on closer investigation, most such reports turn out to be due to miscarriage or miscalculation). But third-trimester abortions provide a test of the limits of the pro-choice point of view. Does a woman’s “innate right to control her own body” encompass the right to kill a near-term fetus who is, for all intents and purposes, identical to a newborn child?

We believe that many supporters of reproductive freedom are troubled at least occasionally by this question. But they are reluctant to raise it because it is the beginning of a slippery slope. If it is impermissible to abort a pregnancy in the ninth month, what about the eighth, seventh, sixth … ? Once we acknowledge that the state can interfere at any time in the pregnancy, doesn’t it follow that the state can interfere at all times?

Abortion and the slippery slope argument above

This conjures up the specter of predominantly male, predominantly affluent legislators telling poor women they must bear and raise alone children they cannot afford to bring up; forcing teenagers to bear children they are not emotionally prepared to deal with; saying to women who wish for a career that they must give up their dreams, stay home, and bring up babies; and, worst of all, condemning victims of rape and incest to carry and nurture the offspring of their assailants. Legislative prohibitions on abortion arouse the suspicion that their real intent is to control the independence and sexuality of women…

And yet, by consensus, all of us think it proper that there be prohibitions against, and penalties exacted for, murder. It would be a flimsy defense if the murderer pleads that this is just between him and his victim and none of the government’s business. If killing a fetus is truly killing a human being, is it not the duty of the state to prevent it? Indeed, one of the chief functions of government is to protect the weak from the strong.

If we do not oppose abortion at some stage of pregnancy, is there not a danger of dismissing an entire category of human beings as unworthy of our protection and respect? And isn’t that dismissal the hallmark of sexism, racism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism? Shouldn’t those dedicated to fighting such injustices be scrupulously careful not to embrace another?

Adrian Rogers’ sermon on animal rights refutes Sagan here

There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time… : We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; kill deer and elk for sport, leopards for the pelts, and whales for fertilizer; entrap dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; club seal pups to death; and render a species extinct every day. All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is (allegedly) protected is not life, but human life.

Genesis 3 defines being human

And even with that protection, casual murder is an urban commonplace, and we wage “conventional” wars with tolls so terrible that we are, most of us, afraid to consider them very deeply… That protection, that right to life, eludes the 40,000 children under five who die on our planet each day from preventable starvation, dehydration, disease, and neglect.

Those who assert a “right to life” are for (at most) not just any kind of life, but for–particularly and uniquely—human life. So they too, like pro-choicers, must decide what distinguishes a human being from other animals and when, during gestation, the uniquely human qualities–whatever they are–emerge.

The Bible talks about the differences between humans and animals

Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

In some animals, an egg develops into a healthy adult without benefit of a sperm cell. But not, so far as we know, among humans. A sperm and an unfertilized egg jointly comprise the full genetic blueprint for a human being. Under certain circumstances, after fertilization, they can develop into a baby. But most fertilized eggs are spontaneously miscarried. Development into a baby is by no means guaranteed. Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fertilized egg produced by their union, and if it is murder to destroy a fertilized egg–despite the fact that it’s only potentially a baby–why isn’t it murder to destroy a sperm or an egg?

Hundreds of millions of sperm cells (top speed with tails lashing: five inches per hour) are produced in an average human ejaculation. A healthy young man can produce in a week or two enough spermatozoa to double the human population of the Earth. So is masturbation mass murder? How about nocturnal emissions or just plain sex? When the unfertilized egg is expelled each month, has someone died? Should we mourn all those spontaneous miscarriages? Many lower animals can be grown in a laboratory from a single body cell. Human cells can be cloned… In light of such cloning technology, would we be committing mass murder by destroying any potentially clonable cells? By shedding a drop of blood?


All human sperm and eggs are genetic halves of “potential” human beings. Should heroic efforts be made to save and preserve all of them, everywhere, because of this “potential”? Is failure to do so immoral or criminal? Of course, there’s a difference between taking a life and failing to save it. And there’s a big difference between the probability of survival of a sperm cell and that of a fertilized egg. But the absurdity of a corps of high-minded semen-preservers moves us to wonder whether a fertilized egg’s mere “potential” to become a baby really does make destroying it murder.

Opponents of abortion worry that, once abortion is permissible immediately after conception, no argument will restrict it at any later time in the pregnancy. Then, they fear, one day it will be permissible to murder a fetus that is unambiguously a human being. Both pro-choicers and pro-lifers (at least some of them) are pushed toward absolutist positions by parallel fears of the slippery slope.


Another slippery slope is reached by those pro-lifers who are willing to make an exception in the agonizing case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. But why should the right to live depend on the circumstances of conception? If the same child were to result, can the state ordain life for the offspring of a lawful union but death for one conceived by force or coercion? How can this be just? And if exceptions are extended to such a fetus, why should they be withheld from any other fetus? This is part of the reason some pro-lifers adopt what many others consider the outrageous posture of opposing abortions under any and all circumstances–only excepting, perhaps, when the life of the mother is in danger.

By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions. Instead, the United States is far behind other nations in the development of safe and effective methods of birth control–and, in many cases, opposition to such research (and to sex education) has come from the same people who oppose abortions.continue on to Part 3

For the complete text, including illustrations, introductory quote, footnotes, and commentary on the reaction to the originally published article see Billions and Billions.

The attempt to find an ethically sound and unambiguous judgment on when, if ever, abortion is permissible has deep historical roots. Often, especially in Christian tradition, such attempts were connected with the question of when the soul enters the body–a matter not readily amenable to scientific investigation and an issue of controversy even among learned theologians. Ensoulment has been asserted to occur in the sperm before conception, at conception, at the time of “quickening” (when the mother is first able to feel the fetus stirring within her), and at birth. Or even later.

Different religions have different teachings. Among hunter-gatherers, there are usually no prohibitions against abortion, and it was common in ancient Greece and Rome. In contrast, the more severe Assyrians impaled women on stakes for attempting abortion. The Jewish Talmud teaches that the fetus is not a person and has no rights. The Old and New Testaments–rich in astonishingly detailed prohibitions on dress, diet, and permissible words–contain not a word specifically prohibiting abortion. The only passage that’s remotely relevant (Exodus 21:22) decrees that if there’s a fight and a woman bystander should accidentally be injured and made to miscarry, the assailant must pay a fine.

Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas considered early-term abortion to be homicide (the latter on the grounds that the embryo doesn’t look human). This view was embraced by the Church in the Council of Vienne in 1312, and has never been repudiated. The Catholic Church’s first and long-standing collection of canon law (according to the leading historian of the Church’s teaching on abortion, John Connery, S.J.) held that abortion was homicide only after the fetus was already “formed”–roughly, the end of the first trimester.

But when sperm cells were examined in the seventeenth century by the first microscopes, they were thought to show a fully formed human being. An old idea of the homunculus was resuscitated–in which within each sperm cell was a fully formed tiny human, within whose testes were innumerable other homunculi, etc., ad infinitum. In part through this misinterpretation of scientific data, in 1869 abortion at any time for any reason became grounds for excommunication. It is surprising to most Catholics and others to discover that the date was not much earlier.

From colonial times to the nineteenth century, the choice in the United States was the woman’s until “quickening.” An abortion in the first or even second trimester was at worst a misdemeanor. Convictions were rarely sought and almost impossible to obtain, because they depended entirely on the woman’s own testimony of whether she had felt quickening, and because of the jury’s distaste for prosecuting a woman for exercising her right to choose. In 1800 there was not, so far as is known, a single statute in the United States concerning abortion. Advertisements for drugs to induce abortion could be found in virtually every newspaper and even in many church publications–although the language used was suitably euphemistic, if widely understood.

But by 1900, abortion had been banned at any time in pregnancy by every state in the Union, except when necessary to save the woman’s life. What happened to bring about so striking a reversal? Religion had little to do with it.Drastic economic and social conversions were turning this country from an agrarian to an urban-industrial society. America was in the process of changing from having one of the highest birthrates in the world to one of the lowest. Abortion certainly played a role and stimulated forces to suppress it.


One of the most significant of these forces was the medical profession. Up to the mid-nineteenth century, medicine was an uncertified, unsupervised business. Anyone could hang up a shingle and call himself (or herself) a doctor. With the rise of a new, university-educated medical elite, anxious to enhance the status and influence of physicians, the American Medical Association was formed. In its first decade, the AMA began lobbying against abortions performed by anyone except licensed physicians. New knowledge of embryology, the physicians said, had shown the fetus to be human even before quickening.

Their assault on abortion was motivated not by concern for the health of the woman but, they claimed, for the welfare of the fetus. You had to be a physician to know when abortion was morally justified, because the question depended on scientific and medical facts understood only by physicians. At the same time, women were effectively excluded from the medical schools, where such arcane knowledge could be acquired. So, as things worked out, women had almost nothing to say about terminating their own pregnancies. It was also up to the physician to decide if the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman, and it was entirely at his discretion to determine what was and was not a threat. For the rich woman, the threat might be a threat to her emotional tranquillity or even to her lifestyle. The poor woman was often forced to resort to the back alley or the coat hanger.

This was the law until the 1960s, when a coalition of individuals and organizations, the AMA now among them, sought to overturn it and to reinstate the more traditional values that were to be embodied in Roe v. Wade.continue on to Part 4

If you deliberately kill a human being, it’s called murder. If you deliberately kill a chimpanzee–biologically, our closest relative, sharing 99.6 percent of our active genes–whatever else it is, it’s not murder. To date, murder uniquely applies to killing human beings. Therefore, the question of when personhood (or, if we like, ensoulment) arises is key to the abortion debate. When does the fetus become human? When do distinct and characteristic human qualities emerge?

Section 8 Sperm journey to becoming Human

We recognize that specifying a precise moment will overlook individual differences. Therefore, if we must draw a line, it ought to be drawn conservatively–that is, on the early side. There are people who object to having to set some numerical limit, and we share their disquiet; but if there is to be a law on this matter, and it is to effect some useful compromise between the two absolutist positions, it must specify, at least roughly, a time of transition to personhood.

Every one of us began from a dot. A fertilized egg is roughly the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The momentous meeting of sperm and egg generally occurs in one of the two fallopian tubes. One cell becomes two, two become four, and so on—an exponentiation of base-2 arithmetic. By the tenth day the fertilized egg has become a kind of hollow sphere wandering off to another realm: the womb. It destroys tissue in its path. It sucks blood from capillaries. It bathes itself in maternal blood, from which it extracts oxygen and nutrients. It establishes itself as a kind of parasite on the walls of the uterus.By the third week, around the time of the first missed menstrual period, the forming embryo is about 2 millimeters long and is developing various body parts. Only at this stage does it begin to be dependent on a rudimentary placenta. It looks a little like a segmented worm.By the end of the fourth week, it’s about 5 millimeters (about 1/5 inch) long. It’s recognizable now as a vertebrate, its tube-shaped heart is beginning to beat, something like the gill arches of a fish or an amphibian become conspicuous, and there is a pronounced tail. It looks rather like a newt or a tadpole. This is the end of the first month after conception.By the fifth week, the gross divisions of the brain can be distinguished. What will later develop into eyes are apparent, and little buds appear—on their way to becoming arms and legs.By the sixth week, the embryo is 13 millimeteres (about ½ inch) long. The eyes are still on the side of the head, as in most animals, and the reptilian face has connected slits where the mouth and nose eventually will be.By the end of the seventh week, the tail is almost gone, and sexual characteristics can be discerned (although both sexes look female). The face is mammalian but somewhat piglike.By the end of the eighth week, the face resembles that of a primate but is still not quite human. Most of the human body parts are present in their essentials. Some lower brain anatomy is well-developed. The fetus shows some reflex response to delicate stimulation.By the tenth week, the face has an unmistakably human cast. It is beginning to be possible to distinguish males from females. Nails and major bone structures are not apparent until the third month.By the fourth month, you can tell the face of one fetus from that of another. Quickening is most commonly felt in the fifth month. The bronchioles of the lungs do not begin developing until approximately the sixth month, the alveoli still later.

So, if only a person can be murdered, when does the fetus attain personhood? When its face becomes distinctly human, near the end of the first trimester? When the fetus becomes responsive to stimuli–again, at the end of the first trimester? When it becomes active enough to be felt as quickening, typically in the middle of the second trimester? When the lungs have reached a stage of development sufficient that the fetus might, just conceivably, be able to breathe on its own in the outside air?

The trouble with these particular developmental milestones is not just that they’re arbitrary. More troubling is the fact that none of them involves uniquely humancharacteristics–apart from the superficial matter of facial appearance. All animals respond to stimuli and move of their own volition. Large numbers are able to breathe. But that doesn’t stop us from slaughtering them by the billions. Reflexes and motion are not what make us human.

Section 9 Sagan’s conclusion based on arbitrary choice of the presence of thought by unborn baby

Other animals have advantages over us–in speed, strength, endurance, climbing or burrowing skills, camouflage, sight or smell or hearing, mastery of the air or water. Our one great advantage, the secret of our success, is thought–characteristically human thought. We are able to think things through, imagine events yet to occur, figure things out. That’s how we invented agriculture and civilization. Thought is our blessing and our curse, and it makes us who we are.

Thinking occurs, of course, in the brain–principally in the top layers of the convoluted “gray matter” called the cerebral cortex. The roughly 100 billion neurons in the brain constitute the material basis of thought. The neurons are connected to each other, and their linkups play a major role in what we experience as thinking. But large-scale linking up of neurons doesn’t begin until the 24th to 27th week of pregnancy–the sixth month.

By placing harmless electrodes on a subject’s head, scientists can measure the electrical activity produced by the network of neurons inside the skull. Different kinds of mental activity show different kinds of brain waves. But brain waves with regular patterns typical of adult human brains do not appear in the fetus until about the 30th week of pregnancy–near the beginning of the third trimester. Fetuses younger than this–however alive and active they may be–lack the necessary brain architecture. They cannot yet think.

Acquiescing in the killing of any living creature, especially one that might later become a baby, is troublesome and painful. But we’ve rejected the extremes of “always” and “never,” and this puts us–like it or not–on the slippery slope. If we are forced to choose a developmental criterion, then this is where we draw the line: when the beginning of characteristically human thinking becomes barely possible.

It is, in fact, a very conservative definition: Regular brain waves are rarely found in fetuses. More research would help… If we wanted to make the criterion still more stringent, to allow for occasional precocious fetal brain development, we might draw the line at six months. This, it so happens, is where the Supreme Court drew it in 1973–although for completely different reasons.

Its decision in the case of Roe v. Wade changed American law on abortion. It permits abortion at the request of the woman without restriction in the first trimester and, with some restrictions intended to protect her health, in the second trimester. It allows states to forbid abortion in the third trimester, except when there’s a serious threat to the life or health of the woman. In the 1989 Webster decision, the Supreme Court declined explicitly to overturn Roe v. Wade but in effect invited the 50 state legislatures to decide for themselves.

What was the reasoning in Roe v. Wade? There was no legal weight given to what happens to the children once they are born, or to the family. Instead, a woman’s right to reproductive freedom is protected, the court ruled, by constitutional guarantees of privacy. But that right is not unqualified. The woman’s guarantee of privacy and the fetus’s right to life must be weighed–and when the court did the weighing’ priority was given to privacy in the first trimester and to life in the third. The transition was decided not from any of the considerations we have been dealing with so far…–not when “ensoulment” occurs, not when the fetus takes on sufficient human characteristics to be protected by laws against murder. Instead, the criterion adopted was whether the fetus could live outside the mother. This is called “viability” and depends in part on the ability to breathe. The lungs are simply not developed, and the fetus cannot breathe–no matter how advanced an artificial lung it might be placed in—until about the 24th week, near the start of the sixth month. This is why Roe v. Wade permits the states to prohibit abortions in the last trimester. It’s a very pragmatic criterion.

If the fetus at a certain stage of gestation would be viable outside the womb, the argument goes, then the right of the fetus to life overrides the right of the woman to privacy. But just what does “viable” mean? Even a full-term newborn is not viable without a great deal of care and love. There was a time before incubators, only a few decades ago, when babies in their seventh month were unlikely to be viable. Would aborting in the seventh month have been permissible then? After the invention of incubators, did aborting pregnancies in the seventh month suddenly become immoral? What happens if, in the future, a new technology develops so that an artificial womb can sustain a fetus even before the sixth month by delivering oxygen and nutrients through the blood–as the mother does through the placenta and into the fetal blood system? We grant that this technology is unlikely to be developed soon or become available to many. But if it were available, does it then become immoral to abort earlier than the sixth month, when previously it was moral? A morality that depends on, and changes with, technology is a fragile morality; for some, it is also an unacceptable morality.

And why, exactly, should breathing (or kidney function, or the ability to resist disease) justify legal protection? If a fetus can be shown to think and feel but not be able to breathe, would it be all right to kill it? Do we value breathing more than thinking and feeling? Viability arguments cannot, it seems to us, coherently determine when abortions are permissible. Some other criterion is needed. Again, we offer for consideration the earliest onset of human thinking as that criterion.

Since, on average, fetal thinking occurs even later than fetal lung development, we find Roe v. Wade to be a good and prudent decision addressing a complex and difficult issue. With prohibitions on abortion in the last trimester–except in cases of grave medical necessity–it strikes a fair balance between the conflicting claims of freedom and life.What do you think? What have others said about Carl Sagan’s thoughts on 


“Roe v. Wade changed American law on abortion. It permits abortion at the request of the woman without restriction in the first trimester and, with some restrictions intended to protect her health, in the second trimester. It allows states to forbid abortion in the third trimester, except when there’s a serious threat to the life or health of the woman”

End of Carl Sagan Excerpt


Francis J. Beckwith noted:

After viability the mother’s life or health (which presumably is to be defined very broadly indeed, so as to include what many might regard as the mother’s convenience…) must, as a matter of constitutional law, take precedence over…the fetus’s life…7 (emphasis in original).

Abortion Rights: Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights

Article ID: DA020-1

By: Francis J. Beckwith

Abortion has become the most divisive political and social issue in late twentieth century America. When the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri was within its constitutional rights to enact abortion restrictions (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 1989), it moved the debate from the realm of the federal judiciary into the lap of the legislative process. It is now possible for other states to enact similar and even more restrictive legislation. This, of course, makes a candidate’s stance on abortion rights much more important in the electoral process, since his or her view on abortion can now make a practical difference in terms of what laws will be enacted if he or she is elected. And, since our judiciary has become more conservative, it is apparent that the abortion rights movement has the most to lose if the issue returns to the courts. Thus the arguments for abortion rights are being put forth in the political arena with greater vigor and hotter rhetoric than ever before. It is also apparent that pro-life spokespersons and political candidates have, for the most part, responded inadequately. They have either toned down their pro-life position, caved in to the opposition, or permitted the pro-choice movement to control the terminology and framework of the debate.It is my hope that this four-part series will help to reverse this trend by providing a rigorous intellectual defense of the pro-life position — helpful to policy makers, political consultants, pro-life leadership, and ordinary Americans. In this first article, after briefly explaining what it means to be pro-life and discussing why abortion on demand is legal in America, I will present and critique those arguments best classified as appeals to pity. The second article will deal with more appeals to pity, appeals to tolerance, and arguments from ad hominem (“attacking the person”). In articles three and four I will present the pro-life case for the full humanness of the unborn from the moment of conception. Article four will conclude with answers to some common questions about the pro-life position. Of course, not every defender of abortion rights holds to all or any of the arguments that will appear in this four-part series. Some of the more sophisticated defenders of abortion rights eschew much of the popular rhetoric and defend their position on other grounds. But since most people will come into contact with these arguments in both the popular media and pro-choice literature, it is necessary that they be carefully analyzed.


The pro-life position is subject to somewhat varying formulations. The most widely accepted and representative of these can be defined in the following way: The unborn entity is fully human from the moment of conception. Abortion (narrowly defined) results in the intentional death of the unborn entity. Therefore, abortion entails the intentional killing of a human being. This killing is in most cases unjustified, since the unborn human being has a full right to life. If, however, there is a high probability that a woman’s pregnancy will result in her death (as in the case of a tubal pregnancy, for example), then abortion is justified. For it is a greater good that one human should live (the mother) rather than two die (the mother and her child). Or, to put it another way, in such cases the intent is not to kill the unborn (though that is an unfortunate effect) but to save the life of the mother. With the exception of such cases, abortion is an act in which an innocent human being is intentionally killed; therefore, abortion should be made illegal, as are all other such acts of killing. This is the pro-life position I will be defending in this series. Some people claim to be both pro-life and pro-choice. This is a ploy taken by politicians, such as Nevada Senator Richard Bryan and New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who appear absolutely petrified to take a stand on the abortion issue. They usually say, “I’m personally against abortion, but I don’t object to a woman who wants to have one if she believes it is the right thing to do.” The problem with this statement is that it doesn’t tell us the reason why the politician claims to be personally against abortion. Since most people who are against abortion are so because they believe that the unborn are fully human and have all the rights that go along with such a status, we would expect that if the politician were personally against abortion it would be for the same reason. But this would make the politician’s personal opposition and public permission of abortion somewhat perplexing, since the assumed reason why he would be personally against abortion is the same reason why he should be against publicly permitting it, namely, that an entity which is fully human has a right to life. After all, what would we think of the depth of an individual’s convictions if he claimed that he was personally against the genocide of a particular ethnic group (e.g., the Jews), but he added that if others thought this race was not human, they were certainly welcome to participate in the genocide if they so chose? What I’m getting at is simply that the nature of some “personal” opinions warrants public actions, even if these opinions turn out to be wrong, while other opinions (e.g., one’s personal preference for German chocolate cake) do not. Thus, it makes little moral sense to claim that one is both pro-life and pro-choice.


It is important that the reader understand the current legal status of abortion in America. There seems to be a widespread perception that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (1973) only permits abortions up to 24 weeks, and after that time only to save the life of the mother. This false perception — fueled in large part by groups supporting abortion rights — is uncritically accepted by the media. The fact is that the current law does not restrict a woman from getting an abortion for practically any reason she deems fit during the entire nine months of pregnancy. In order to understand why this is the case, a brief history lesson is in order. In Roe,Justice Harry Blackmun divided pregnancy into three trimesters. He ruled that aside from normal procedural guidelines (e.g., an abortion must be safely performed by a licensed physician), a state has no right to restrict abortion in the first six months of pregnancy. Thus a woman could have an abortion during the first two trimesters for any reason she deemed fit, whether it be an unplanned pregnancy, gender selection, convenience, or rape. In the last trimester the state has a right, although not an obligation, to restrict abortions to only those cases in which the mother’s health is jeopardized. In sum, Roe v. Wade does not prevent a state from allowing unrestricted abortion for the entire nine months of pregnancy if it so chooses. Like many other states, the state of Nevada has chosen to restrict abortion in the last trimester by only permitting abortions if “there is a substantial risk that the continuance of the pregnancy would endanger the life of the patient or would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the patient.”2 But this restriction is a restriction in name only. For the Supreme Court so broadly defined “health” in Roe’s companion decision, Doe v. Bolton (1973), that for all intents and purposes the current law in every state except Missouri and Pennsylvania (where the restrictions allowed by Webster have been enacted into law) allows for abortion on demand. In Bolton the court ruled that “health” must be taken in its broadest possible medical context, and must be defined “in light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the well being of the patient. All these factors relate to health.”3 Since all pregnancies have consequences for a woman’s emotional and family situation, the court’s health provision has the practical effect of legalizing abortion up until the time of birth — if a woman can convince her physician that she needs the abortion to preserve her “emotional health.” This is why the Senate Judiciary Committee, after much critical evaluation of the current law in light of the court’s opinions, concluded that “no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.”4A number of legal scholars have come to the same conclusion, offering comments and observations such as the following:

In actual effect, Roe v. Wade judicially created abortion on demand in the United States.5 The concept of “health,” as defined by the Supreme Court in Doe v. Bolton, includes all medical, psychological, social, familial, and economic factors which might potentially inspire a decision to procure an abortion. As such, “health” abortion is indistinguishable from elective abortion. Thus, until a more narrow definition of “health” is obtained, it may not be possible to limit effectively the number of abortions performed.6

After viability the mother’s life or health (which presumably is to be defined very broadly indeed, so as to include what many might regard as the mother’s convenience…) must, as a matter of constitutional law, take precedence over…the fetus’s life…7 (emphasis in original).

It is safe to say, therefore, that in the first six months of pregnancy a woman can have an abortion for no reason, but in the last three months she can have it for any reason. This is abortion on demand. Those who defend abortion rights do not deny this disturbing fact but often dismiss it by claiming that only one percent of all abortions are done in the last trimester. There are several problems with this statistical dismissal. First, the fact that third-trimester abortions are permitted for nearly any reason and that unborn children are left unprotected is significant in itself regardless of whether a small percentage of total abortions has taken place during this time. Second, since there are about 1.5 million abortions per year in the U.S., it follows that 15,000 (or one percent) of them are done in the third trimester. This means that 1,250 of them are performed every month (about 40 a day). This is no insignificant number.


When one fallaciously argues by appealing to pity, one is arguing that certain actions should be permitted or tolerated out of pity for those performing them (or those on whose behalf they are done), when in fact the basis for showing them pity is not a legitimate basis for the action. For example, a woman who argues that she should not receive a parking ticket because her child was crying and she took her child to a candy store to cheer her up is fallaciously appealing to pity.8 The following abortion rights arguments are textbook examples of such appeals to pity.

Argument from the Dangers of Illegal Abortions

Anyone who keeps up with the many pro-choice demonstrations in the United States cannot help but see on pro-choice placards and buttons a drawing of the infamous coat hanger. This symbol of the pro-choice movement represents the many women who were harmed or killed because they either performed illegal abortions on themselves (i.e., the surgery was performed with a “coat hanger”) or went to unscrupulous physicians (or “back-alley butchers”). Hence, as the argument goes, if abortion is made illegal, then women will once again be harmed. Needless to say, this argument serves a powerful rhetorical purpose. Although the thought of finding a deceased young woman with a bloody coat hanger dangling between her legs is — to say the least — unpleasant, powerful and emotionally charged rhetoric does not a good argument make. The chief reason this argument fails is because it commits the fallacy of begging the question. In fact, as we shall see, this fallacy seems to lurk behind a good percentage of the popular arguments for the pro-choice position. One begs the question when one assumes what one is trying to prove. Another way of putting it is to say that the arguer is reasoning in a circle. For example, if one concludes that the Boston Celtics are the best team because no team is as good, one is not giving any reasons for this belief other than the conclusion one is trying to prove, since to claim that a team is the best team is exactly the same as saying that no team is as good. The question-begging nature of the coat-hanger argument is not difficult to discern: only by assuming that the unborn are not fully human does the argument work. If the unborn are not fully human, then the pro-choice advocate has a legitimate concern, just as one would have in overturning a law forbidding appendicitis operations if countless people were needlessly dying of both appendicitis and illegal operations. But if the unborn are fully human, this pro-choice argument is tantamount to saying that because people die or are harmed while killing other people, the state should make it safe for them to do so. Even some pro-choice advocates, who argue for their position in other ways, admit that the coat hanger/back-alley argument is fallacious. For example, pro-choice philosopher Mary Anne Warren clearly recognizes that her position on abortion cannot rest on this argument without it first being demonstrated that the unborn entity is not fully human. She writes that “the fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of prohibiting it…”9 Although it is doubtful whether statistics can establish a particular moral position, it should be pointed out that there has been considerable debate over both the actual number of illegal abortions and the number of women who died as a result of them prior to legalization.10 Prior to Roe, pro-choicers were fond of saying that nearly a million women every year obtained illegal abortions performed with rusty coat hangers in back-alleys that resulted in thousands of fatalities. Given the gravity of the issue at hand, it would go beyond the duty of kindness to call such claims an exaggeration, because several well-attested facts establish that the pro-choice movement was simply lying. First, Dr. Bernard Nathanson — who was one of the original leaders of the American pro-abortion movement and co-founder of N.A.R.A.L. (National Abortion Rights Action League), and who has since become pro-life — admits that he and others in the abortion rights movement intentionally fabricated the number of women who allegedly died as a result of illegal abortions.

How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L. we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.” I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the “morality” of the revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics. The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason which had to be done was permissible.11

Second, Dr. Nathanson’s observation is borne out in the best official statistical studies available. According to the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics, there were a mere 39 women who died from illegal abortions in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade.12 Dr. Andre Hellegers, the late Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Georgetown University Hospital, pointed out that there has been a steady decrease of abortion-related deaths since 1942. That year there were 1,231 deaths. Due to improved medical care and the use of penicillin, this number fell to 133 by 1968.13 The year before the first state-legalized abortion, 1966, there were about 120 abortion-related deaths.14 This is not to minimize the undeniable fact that such deaths were significant losses to the families and loved ones of those who died. But one must be willing to admit the equally undeniable fact that if the unborn are fully human, these abortion-related maternal deaths pale in comparison to the 1.5 million preborn humans who die (on the average) every year. And even if we grant that there were more abortion-related deaths than the low number confirmed, there is no doubt that the 5,000 to 10,000 deaths cited by the abortion rights movement is a gross exaggeration.15 Third, it is simply false to claim that there were nearly a million illegal abortions per year prior to legalization. There is no reliable statistical support for this claim.16 In addition, a highly sophisticated recent study has concluded that “a reasonable estimate for the actual number of criminal abortions per year in the prelegalization era [prior to 1967] would be from a low of 39,000 (1950) to a high of 210,000 (1961) and a mean of 98,000 per year.17Fourth, it is misleading to say that pre-Roe illegal abortions were performed by “back-alley butchers” with rusty coat hangers. While president of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Mary Calderone pointed out in a 1960 American Journal of Healtharticle that Dr. Kinsey showed in 1958 that 84% to 87% of all illegal abortions were performed by licensed physicians in good standing. Dr. Calderone herself concluded that “90% of all illegal abortions are presently done by physicians.”18 It seems that the vast majority of the alleged “back-alley butchers” eventually became the “reproductive health providers” of our present day.

Argument from Economic Inequity

Pro-choice advocates often argue that prior to abortion being legalized, pregnant women who did not go to unscrupulous physicians or “back-alley butchers” traveled to foreign nations where abortions were legal. This was an option open only to rich women who could afford such an expense. Hence, Roe v. Wade has made the current situation fairer for poor women. Therefore, if abortion is prohibited it will not prevent rich women from having safe and legal abortions elsewhere.19 This argument is fallacious: it assumes that legal abortion is a moral good which poor women will be denied if abortion is made illegal. But since the morality of abortion is the point under question, the pro-choice proponent assumes what he or she is trying to prove and therefore begs the question. One can think of a number of examples to better understand this point. To cite one, we would consider it outrageous if someone argued that the hiring of hit men to kill one’s enemies should be legalized, since — after all — the poor do not have easy economic access to such “professionals.” In the abortion debate the question of whether abortion entails the death of a being who is fully human must be answered before the question of fairness is even asked. That is to say, since equal opportunity to eliminate an innocent human being is rarely if ever a moral good, the question of whether it is fair that certain rich people will have privileged access to abortion if it becomes illegal must be answered after we answer the question of whether abortion in fact is not the killing of an innocent human life. For it is not true that the vices of the wealthy are virtues simply because the poor are denied them.

Argument from Population, Poverty, and Financial Burden

Some pro-choice advocates make much of both the use of abortion as a means of population control and the financial and emotional burden a child may put on a family. It is argued that in such situations abortion is justified. Along the same lines, a number of pro-choice advocates argue that if abortion is forbidden, then the poor will keep producing more children to draw more welfare. Hence, in addition to pity, there is an economic incentive invoked in this appeal. Beyond pointing out that the so-called “population explosion” is an economic and not a people problem,20 there are several fundamental moral problems with this argument. First, it does not really support the pro-choice position that abortion is a fundamental right the pregnant woman can exercise for any reason she deems fit during the entire nine months of pregnancy (see above). If this argument is successful it only establishes the right to an abortion in the cases of overpopulation, poverty, and financial burden, and not“for any reason the pregnant woman deems fit.” Second, like the other arguments we have examined, this one also begs the question. That is, only if the pro-choice advocate assumes that the unborn poor are not fully human does his or her policy carry any weight. For if the unborn poor are fully human, the pro-choice advocate’s plan to eliminate overpopulation and poverty by permitting the extermination of the unborn poor is inconsistent with his or her own ethic of personal rights. Thus, the question of aborting the unborn poor, like the points brought up earlier, hinges on the status of the unborn. Furthermore, if the unborn are fully human, then this is also a good argument for infanticide and the killing of all humans we find to be financially burdensome or emotionally taxing. Therefore, only by assuming that the unborn are not fully human does the pro-choice advocate avoid such horrendous implications. Thus, in order for this argument to work, the pro-choice advocate must beg the question. This is not to say that the human race may not reach a time in its history at which overpopulation becomes a problem so severe that it must significantly curtail its birthrate. At such a time it would be wise to try to persuade people either to willingly use contraceptive devices or to practice sexual discipline. If such a tactic does not work, then forced sterilization may be a viable — albeit desperate — option, since it does not entail the death of the unborn. In any event, if the unborn are fully human, abortion is not a solution to population problems even in the most dire of circumstances. Hence, the real question is whether or not the unborn are fully human. Underlying this type of pro-choice argument is a fundamental confusion between the concept of “finding a solution” and the concept of “eliminating a problem.” For example, one can eliminate the problem of poverty by executing all poor people, but this would not really solve the problem, since it would directly conflict with a basic moral truth that human beings should not be gratuitously exterminated for the sake of easing economic tension. This “solution” would undermine the very moral sentiments that ground our compassion for poor people — namely, that they are humans of great worth and should be treated with dignity regardless of their predicament. Similarly, one can eliminate the problem of having a headache by cutting off one’s head, but this is certainly not a real solution. Therefore, the argument of the pro-choice advocate is superfluous unless he or she can first show that the unborn are not fully human and hence do not deserve to be the recipients of our basic moral sentiments. Baylor University philosopher and bioethicist Baruch Brody comments:

In an age where we doubt the justice of capital punishment even for very dangerous criminals, killing a fetus who has not done any harm, to avoid a future problem it may pose, seems totally unjust. There are indeed many social problems that could be erased simply by destroying those persons who constitute or cause them, but that is a solution repugnant to the values of society itself. In short, then, if the fetus is a human being, the appeal to its being unwanted justifies no abortions.21

This is not to minimize the fact that there are tragic circumstances with which our society is all too familiar, such as the poor woman with four small children who has become pregnant by her alcoholic husband. But once again we must ask whether or not the unborn entity is fully human, for hardship does not justify homicide. In such cases, those in the religious and charitable communities should help lend financial and emotional support to the family. And it may be wise — if it is a case of extreme hardship — for the woman to put her baby up for adoption, so that she may give to others the gift of parenthood.

Argument from the Deformed and Mongoloid Child

Since it is now possible to detect through amniocentesis and other tests whether the unborn entity will turn out to be physically or mentally handicapped,22 some pro-choice advocates argue that abortion should remain a choice for women who do not want to take care of such a child. Another reason cited for advocating the aborting of the defective unborn is that it is better for such children never to be born rather than to live a life burdened with a serious mental or physical handicap. There are several problems with this argument. First, this argument, like many of the appeals to “hard cases,” does not really support the pro-choice position — the position that abortion is a fundamental right the pregnant woman can exercise for any reason she deems fit during the entire nine months of pregnancy (see above). In other words, if this argument is successful in showing that abortion is justified in the case of a woman pregnant with a deformed or Mongoloid fetus, it only establishes the right to an abortion in such cases, not “for any reason the pregnant woman deems fit.” Second, like many of the pro-choice arguments, this argument begs the question by assuming that the unborn entity is not fully human. For if the unborn are fully human, then to promote the aborting of the handicapped unborn is no different morally than promoting the execution of handicapped people who are already born. But such a practice is morally reprehensible. Are not adults with deformities human? Then so too are smaller people who have the same deformities. In fact, pro-choice advocates Peter Singer and Helga Kuhse, who argue for their position in other ways, admit that “pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference…The solution, however, is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite: to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth.”23 Although I do not agree with this conclusion, and will argue against it in this series, Singer and Kuhse make an important observation: the question is not whether a handicapped individual is born or unborn, but whether handicapped human life should be protected equally with healthy human life. Third, it is amazingly presumptuous for mere human beings to say that certain other human beings are better off not existing. Those who make such judgments concerning the handicapped seem to assume that handicapped persons cannot live meaningful and even happy lives. However, this assumption is false. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who worked for years with severely deformed infants as a pediatric surgeon at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, commented that “it has been my constant experience that disability and unhappiness do not necessarily go together.”24 He continues:

Some of the most unhappy children whom I have known have all of their physical and mental faculties, and on the other hand some of the happiest youngsters have borne burdens which I myself would find very difficult to bear. Our obligation in such circumstances is to find alternatives for the problems our patients face. I don’t consider death an acceptable alternative. With our technology and creativity, we are merely at the beginning of what we can do educationally and in the field of leisure activities for such youngsters. And who knows what happiness is for another person?25

This is not to deny that there are tragedies in life and that having a handicapped child is often a difficult burden to undertake. But I think it is important to realize that if the unborn entity is fully human, homicide cannot be justified simply because it relieves one of a terrible burden. Though it may be hard to accept, I believe the following principle is fundamental to correct moral reasoning: it is better to suffer evil rather than to inflict it.26 If this moral precept were not true, all so-called moral dilemmas would be easily soluble by simply appealing to one’s own relief from suffering. But in such a world the antidote would be worse than the poison, for people would then have a right to inflict suffering on another if it relieved them of their own. This would be morally intolerable. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that a handicapped child can give both society and the family into which it has been born an opportunity to exercise true compassion, love, charity, and kindness. It is an assault upon our common humanity to deny our capacity to attain virtue in the presence of suffering. Fourth, for obvious reasons many handicapped people are vehemently opposed to this argument. In fact, there is not a single organization of handicapped people that is on record in favor of abortion of those who may be handicapped. Surgeon General Koop cites the following letter, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph (8 Dec. 1962) at a time when European newspapers were seriously discussing the use of abortion as an effective means by which to avoid the birth of children who became defective in utero due to their mother’s use of Thalidomide (a tranquilizer used by European women in the 1950s and 1960s but never approved by the FDA for sale in the U.S.):

Trowbridge Kent Dec. 8, 1962


We were disabled from causes other than Thalidomide, the first of us two having useless arms and hands; the second, two useless legs; and the third, the use of neither arms nor legs. We were fortunate…in having been allowed to live and we want to say with strong conviction how thankful we are that none took it upon themselves to destroy us as useless cripples.

Here at the Debarue school of spastics, one of the schools of the National Spastic Society, we have found worthwhile and happy lives and we face our future with confidence. Despite our disability, life still has much to offer and we are more than anxious, if only metaphorically, to reach out toward the future.

This, we hope will give comfort and hope to the parents of the Thalidomide babies, and at the same time serve to condemn those who would contemplate the destruction of even a limbless baby.

Yours faithfully,

Elaine Duckett, Glynn Verdon, Caryl Hodges.27

Fifth, if there were a negative correlation between happiness and handicap, it would seem natural to find more suicides among the handicapped than the general public. But the opposite is the case. Professor Krason points out that “no study…has found that handicapped persons are more likely than non-handicapped persons to want to be killed or to commit suicide.” Citing a study of the late Dr. Hellegers, Krason writes that “of 200 consecutive suicides at the Baltimore Morgue…none had been committed by people with congenital anomalies.”28 A society whose ethic asserts that certain preborn human beings forfeit their right to life simply because they have a certain physical deformity or mental handicap is a society that will inevitably see those who have already been born with the same features as having lives “not worth living.” The chilling logic of this conclusion was played out in a real-life situation in 1982. That year, Infant Doe, an Indiana newborn who was born with Down’s syndrome and correctable spina bifida, was permitted to die at the request of her parents who asked the attending physician to withhold food and water from the infant. This parental decision was upheld by an Indiana court. Since her spina bifida was correctable by surgery, if Infant Doe had not been “retarded,” there is no doubt that the parents would have requested the necessary surgery. So it was not the spina bifida that killed Infant Doe, but parents who neglected her simply because she had Down’s syndrome. While commenting on this case, columnist George Will writes about his own son, Jonathan, a Down’s syndrome citizen:

When a commentator has a direct personal interest in an issue, it behooves him to say so. Some of my best friends are Down’s syndrome citizens. (Citizens are what Down’s syndrome children are if they avoid being homicide victims in hospitals.) Jonathan Will, 10, fourth-grader and Orioles fan (and the best Wiffle-ball hitter in southern Maryland), has Down’s syndrome. He does not “suffer from” (as newspapers are wont to say) Down’s syndrome. He suffers from nothing, except anxiety about the Orioles’ lousy start. He is doing nicely, thank you. But he is bound to have quite enough problems dealing with society — receiving rights, let alone empathy. He can do without people like Infant Doe’s parents, and courts like Indiana’s asserting by their actions the principle that people like him are less than fully human. On the evidence, Down’s syndrome citizens have little to learn about being human from people responsible for the death of Infant Doe.29

Finally, abortion is sometimes justified by pro-choicers by appealing to certain extreme cases in which the entities in the womb are so genetically abnormal as to be arguably nonhuman. For example, the tertatoma is simply a tumor with some human genetic material that has gone awry. Sometimes it may contain hair, teeth, skin, or even fingers, but it is not an unborn human entity and does not have the inherent capacity to develop under any conditions into a human infant. The tertatoma is part of the woman’s bodily tissue and is not a separate human individual.30

More difficult is the case of the anencephalic baby. According to the American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, anencephaly is the “absence at birth of the brain, cranial vault (top of the skull), and spinal cord. Most affected infants are stillborn or survive only a few hours.” Anencephaly occurs “due to a failure in development of the neural tube, the nerve tissue in the embryo that eventually develops into the spinal cord and brain.” A woman can know early in pregnancy that she is carrying an anencephalic baby “by measurement of alphafetoprotein, by ultrasound scanning, and by amnio-centesis…”31 We may or may not be dealing with human beings in the case of anencephalic babies. Citing the work of Professor Germain Grisez, Krason argues that “there are two ways we may view the ‘anencephalic monster,’ depending on when the abnormality originates.” One way, “when the abnormality or the genetic certainty of it is present from conception, is to view the organism as human in its conception, but incapable of developing beyond a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks.” He argues “that in such cases, especially if the specifically human genetic pattern is greatly transformed, we may not consider the conceptus a human individual.”32 Relying on Grisez, Krason writes that when the abnormality develops some time after conception we could view the anencephelic as we would an individual who has had his head blown off by a shotgun. “Such a person is human and remains such until he dies.” Since “the anencephalic originated as a human and developed normally up to the point when the neural tube failed to close…he thus can be viewed as a human being, albeit a damaged one, whose abnormality will cause his death shortly after birth, like the gunshot-wounded person will die a short while after his wound.”33 A damaged human is not a nonhuman. It should be remembered, however, that the anencephalic is a “hard case,” and cannot be used to justify the vast majority of abortions that involve the killing of healthy unborns for any reason the pregnant woman deems fit. Furthermore, the argument from the apparent nonhumanness of the anencephalic implicitly admits what is the main contention of the pro-life position, namely, that unborn human beings should not be killed.

Francis J. Beckwith, Ph.D., is a Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has written extensively on ethics, abortion, and public policy, including A Matter of Life and Death: Questions and Answers about Abortion and Euthanasia, a forthcoming book co-authored with Norman L. Geisler.


1 See Fred Barnes, “Republicans Miscarry Abortion,” The American Spectator 23 (January 1990):14-15. 2 Nevada Revised Statute, 442.250, subsection 3. 3 Doe v. Bolton 410 U.S. 179, 192 (1973). 4 Report, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, on Senate Resolution 3, 98th Congress, 98-149, 7 June 1983, 6. 5 John Warwick Montgomery, “The Rights of Unborn Children,” Simon Greenleaf Law Review 5 (1985-86):40.6 Victor G. Rosenblum and Thomas J. Marzen, “Strategies for Reversing Roe v. Wade through the Courts,” in Abortion and the Constitution: Reversing Roe v. Wade through the Courts, ed. Dennis Horan, Edward R. Grant, and Paige C. Cunningham (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1987), 199-200. 7 John Hart Ely, “The Wages of Crying Wolf: A comment on Roe v. Wade,” Yale Law Journal 82 (1973):921. 8 John Nolt and Dennis Rohatyn, Schaum’s Outline of Theory and Problems of Logic (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1988), 172. 9Mary Anne Warren “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in The Problem of Abortion, 2nd ed., ed. Joel Feinberg (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1984), 103. 10 See Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 132-36; and Stephen Krason, Abortion: Politics, Morality, and the Constitution (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984), 301-10. 11Bernard Nathanson, M.D., Aborting America (New York: Doubleday, 1979), 193. 12From the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics Center for Disease Control, as cited in Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Wilke, Abortion: Questions and Answers, rev. ed. (Cincinnati: Hayes Publishing, 1988), 101-2. 13 From Dr. Hellegers’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Constitutional Amendments, April 25, 1 1974; cited in John Jefferson Davis, Abortion and the Christian (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1984), 75. 14 From the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics Center for Disease Control, as cited in Wilke, 101-2. 15 See Davis, 75. 16 See note 10; Callahan, 132-36; Krason, 301-10. 17 Barbara J. Syska, Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., and Dennis O’Hare, “An Objective Model for Estimating Criminal Abortions and Its Implications for Public Policy,” in New Perspectives on Human Abortion, ed. Thomas Hilgers, M.D., Dennis J. Horan, and David Mall (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1981), 78. 18 Mary Calderone, “Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem,” in American Journal of Health 50 (July 1960):949. 19 See Craig Walton, “Socrates Comes to His Senses During Meeting With Bush,” Las VegasReview-Journal (3 November 1988):11B. 20 See Jaqueline Kasun, “The Population Bomb Threat: A Look at the Facts,” in The Zero People, 33-41. Originally published in Intellect (June 1977). 21 Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical View (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1975), 36-37. 22 See “Birth Defects,” in The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, 172-73. 23 Peter Singer and Helen Kuhse, “On Letting Handicapped Infants Die,” in The Right Thing to Do: Basic Readings in Moral Philosophy, ed. James Rachels (New York: Random House, 1989), 146. 24 Quoted in Nathanson, 235. 25 Ibid., 235-36. 26 See Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1982), 140. 27 C. Everett Koop, The Right to Live: The Right to Die (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1976), 51-52. 28 Krason, 295. 29 George Will, “The Killing Will Not Stop,” in The Zero People, 206-7. Originally published in the Washington Post (22 April 1982). 30 AMA Encyclopedia, 971. 31 Ibid., 104. 32 Krason, 386-87. SeeGermain Grisez, Abortion: the Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (New York: Corpus Books, 1970), 30. 33 Krason, 387. See Grisez, 28-30.

Dr. C. Everett Koop with Bill Graham.

Pt 1 of 2 Listen to this Important Message by Francis Schaeffer

Published on Sep 30, 2013

This message “A Christian Manifesto” was given in 1982 by the late Christian Philosopher Francis Schaeffer when he was age 70 at D. James Kennedy’s Corral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
Listen to this important message where Dr. Schaeffer says it is the duty of Christians to disobey the government when it comes in conflict with God’s laws. So many have misinterpreted Romans 13 to mean unconditional obedience to the state. When the state promotes an evil agenda and anti-Christian statues we must obey God rather than men. Acts
I use to watch James Kennedy preach from his TV pulpit with great delight in the 1980’s. Both of these men are gone to be with the Lord now. We need new Christian leaders to rise up in their stead.
To view Part 2 See Francis Schaeffer Lecture- Christian Manifesto Pt 2 of 2 video
The religious and political freedom’s we enjoy as Americans was based on the Bible and the legacy of the Reformation according to Francis Schaeffer. These freedoms will continue to diminish as we cast off the authority of Holy Scripture.
In public schools there is no other view of reality but that final reality is shaped by chance.
Likewise, public television gives us many things that we like culturally but so much of it is mere propaganda shaped by a humanistic world and life view.


I was able to watch Francis Schaeffer deliver a speech on a book he wrote called “A Christian Manifesto” and I heard him in several interviews on it in 1981 and 1982. I listened with great interest since I also read that book over and over again. Below is a portion of one of Schaeffer’s talks  on a crucial subject that is very important today too.
A Christian Manifesto
by Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer
This address was delivered by the late Dr. Schaeffer in 1982 at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is based on one of his books, which bears the same title.
Founding fathers believed gave us inalienable rights

It should be noticed that this new dominant world view is a view which is exactly opposite from that of the founding fathers of this country. Now, not all the founding fathers were individually, personally, Christians. That certainly is true. But, nevertheless, they founded the country on the base that there is a God who is the Creator (now I come to the next central phrase) who gave the inalienable rights.
We must understand something very thoroughly. If society — if the state gives the rights, it can take them away — they’re not inalienable. If the states give the rights, they can change them and manipulate them. But this was not the view of the founding fathers of this country. They believed, although not all of them were individual Christians, that there was a Creator and that this Creator gave the inalienable rights — this upon which our country was founded and which has given us the freedoms which we still have — even the freedoms which are being used now to destroy the freedoms.
The reason that these freedoms were there is because they believed there was somebody who gave the inalienable rights. But if we have the view that the final reality is material or energy which has existed forever in some form, we must understand that this view never, never, never would have given the rights which we now know and which, unhappily, I say to you (those of you who are Christians) that too often you take all too much for granted. You forget that the freedoms which we have in northern Europe after the Reformation (and the United States is an extension of that, as would be Australia or Canada, New Zealand, etc.) are absolutely unique in the world.
Occasionally, some of you who have gone to universities have been taught that these freedoms are rooted in the Greek city-states. That is not the truth. All you have to do is read Plato’s Republic and you understand that the Greek city-states never had any concept of the freedoms that we have. Go back into history. The freedoms which we have (the form / freedom balance of government) are unique in history and they are also unique in the world at this day.
A fairly recent poll of the 150 some countries that now constitute the world shows that only 25 of these countries have any freedoms at all. What we have, and take so poorly for granted, is unique. It was brought forth by a specific world view and that specific world view was the Judeo-Christian world view especially as it was refined in the Reformation, putting the authority indeed at a central point — not in the Church and the state and the Word of God, but rather the Word of God alone. All the benefits which we know — I would repeat — which we have taken so easily and so much for granted, are unique. They have been grounded on the certain world view that there was a Creator there to give inalienable rights. And this other view over here, which has become increasingly dominant, of the material-energy final world view (shaped by pure chance) never would have, could not, has, no basis of values, in order to give such a balance of freedom that we have known so easily and which we unhappily, if we are not careful, take so for granted.
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Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 7 “The Age of Non-Reason” (Schaeffer Sundays)

E P I S O D E 7 Dr. Francis Schaeffer – Episode VII – The Age of Non Reason I am thrilled to get this film series with you. I saw it first in 1979 and it had such a big impact on me. Today’s episode is where we see modern humanist man act […]

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Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 4 “The Reformation” (Schaeffer Sundays)

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“Schaeffer Sundays” Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 3 “The Renaissance”

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Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 2 “The Middle Ages” (Schaeffer Sundays)

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It is not possible to know where the pro-life evangelicals are coming from unless you look at the work of the person who inspired them the most. That person was Francis Schaeffer.  I do care about economic issues but the pro-life issue is the most important to me. Several years ago Adrian Rogers (past president of […]

The following essay explores the role that Francis Schaeffer played in the rise of the pro-life movement. It examines the place of How Should We Then Live?, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto in that process.

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