BREAKING DOWN CARL SAGAN’S LOGIC ON ABORTION Part 40 “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” (My 1995 correspondence with Sagan)

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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 when he was a young pastor in St. Louis pictured above.

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Francis Schaeffer and Adrian Rogers

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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.


Carl Sagan pictured below:

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Francis Schaeffer

I mentioned earlier that I was blessed with the opportunity to correspond with Dr. Sagan. 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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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.

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 

END OF SAGAN’S ARTICLE

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Carl Sagan with his wife Ann in the 1990’s
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I grew up in Memphis as a member of Bellevue Baptist Church under our pastor Adrian Rogers and attended ECS High School where the books and films of Francis Schaeffer were taught. Both men dealt with current issues in the culture such as the film series COSMOS by Carl Sagan. I personally read several of Sagan’s books.  (Francis and Edith Schaeffer pictured below in their home at L’ Abri in Switzerland where Francis  taught students for 3 decades.
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Common Abortion Fallacies

Poverty, rape, disability, and “unwantedness” do not morally justify abortion.

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There are a few scenarios that are commonly pointed to in an attempt to justify abortion. Since none of them can justify the killing of a human being after birth, neither do they justify the killing of a human being before birth.

When it comes to abortion, there is no shortage of “What if…?’s.” Just when it seems the injustice of abortion has been firmly established, you’ll hear things like: What if the woman was raped?, What if she can’t afford a child?, or What if the baby is deformed? These questions don’t address the fundamental ethics of abortion, but they do introduce a host of difficult variables. Some people appeal to them earnestly. Many do not. These “hard cases” are often used as a last defense by those who actually believe abortion should be legal no matter what the circumstances. They appeal to these more emotionally-charged circumstances in an attempt to move the focus away from the heart of the issue – which is the humanity of unborn children and the violence of abortion. The best way to expose the fallacy of such claims is to simply broaden the context and apply them to children outside the womb. No matter how you frame it, the difficulty that these circumstances present do not justify the death of an innocent human being.

WHAT IF THE CHILD IS UNWANTED?

One of the historic mantras of the abortion industry goes like this: “Every Child a Wanted Child.” It sounds noble enough, until you realize what their solution to unwantedness is. If a child isn’t wanted, they argue, then it shouldn’t be born. The problem, of course, is that if the child is already conceived, the only way to keep said child from being born is to kill it. How do they justify such violence? Often by arguing that it is better for the child to be dead than for the child to be unwanted.

This is a bogus argument. It doesn’t work for the simple fact that no one makes such an argument about children after birth. Is certain death really the answer to potential neglect or abuse? If someone’s right to life truly were established or removed based simply on their “wantedness,” what would that mean for the homeless, the aged or the infirm? In the broadest sense, the whole discussion of “wantedness” ignores a substantial reality. Even if the biological parents want nothing to do with their offspring, there are families all over the nation waiting desperately to adopt a baby,families who are willing to adopt diseased babies of any race or ethnicity.

Former United States Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, observed that the easy availability of abortion can unduly influence a woman’s feelings about being pregnant. He writes:

Obviously, many more babies are unwanted early in pregnancy than is the case later in pregnancy or after birth. It is the ready availability of abortion-on-demand, when a pregnant woman first has that natural question about how well she can handle a pregnancy, that leads to the tremendous number of abortions.1

Something as subjective as “wantedness” can never be the basis for granting someone the right to life, and abortion advocates know this. They don’t argue that mothers should be free to kill their “unwanted” children after birth because they know these children are living, human beings with full rights of personhood. The only reason they argue that mothers should be free to kill their unwanted children before birth is because they’re ignoring the scientific reality that these children, too, are living, human beings. The question is humanity, not wantedness.

WHAT IF THE MOTHER CAN’T AFFORD A CHILD?

Abortion advocates often argue that it is acceptable for a woman to abort her pregnancy if she cannot afford to raise a child. While they are careful to use noble and compassionate language, they are essentially arguing that if a baby is going to be too expensive, the mother has a right to kill it. Such rationale falls apart on many levels, but we’ll start with the most fundamental. Like so many abortion arguments, this one assumes something about the unborn embryo or fetus that it hasn’t proved. It assumes, in fact, the very thing that it must prove before the argument can hold any water.

Isn’t it true, that there are born-children, today, who are growing up in poverty? Has anyone ever heard someone argue that the mothers of these born-children should have the right to kill them, since they can’t afford to raise them? No one makes such an absurd and heartless argument because we all know that no amount of financial hardship is sufficient rationale for killing another human being, particularly an innocent child. On a practical level, there are more crisis pregnancy care centers in America today than there are abortion providers. They all function to help bring women through their pregnancies by providing them the emotional and financial assistance they need to carry to term and, if need be, place for adoption (which would relieve all future financial obligation). When help is needed, help can be found.

The only reason anyone uses the financial hardship argument to try and justify abortion is because they are assuming that human beings in the womb are qualitatively different from human beings out of the womb. But until abortion advocates can prove this to be so, financial distress can never justify abortion. Poverty is not the issue. The humanity of the unborn child is.

WHAT IF THE BABY IS DEFORMED?

Generally speaking, abortion advocates would have you believe that putting an unborn child to death is an acceptable way to treat physical or mental disability. In much the same way that they argue for aborting children who might grow up in poverty, abortion advocates also argue for the right to abort children who might grow up with a disability—as if disease or handicap somehow strips a person of their right to live and relegates them to a life of misery. Such a suggestion is barbaric and inhumane and has no place in a just society. There are children of all ages, and adults too, who are alive today and are living through all manner of disease and disability. Do these physical limitations make them less human? Is killing those who are sick really an acceptable way to treat sickness?

C. Everett Koop, who pioneered the field of pediatric surgery, points out that “some of the most unhappy children have all of their physical and mental faculties, while some of the happiest youngsters have borne burdens which most of us would find very difficult to endure.”2 He continues:

The most challenging aspect of children’s surgery is the treatment of those congenital defects that are incompatible with life, but nevertheless can be corrected by the proper surgical procedure carried out shortly after birth… Of course there are problems in raising some of these children, and they may on occasion constitute a burden for the rest of the family. [I have performed] thousands of just such operations. No family has ever asked, “Why did you work so hard to save the life of my child?” No grown child or young adult has ever asked, “Why did you struggle so hard when you knew the outcome would not be perfect?3

The only reason anyone suggests for children before birth what they would never suggest after birth is that they are again assuming what they have not proven. Anyone who argues that abortion is a necessary safeguard against a life of suffering and disability is assuming that the unborn child is not yet a living human being. But this is exactly the point that they must prove before they can even begin to make such claims. Disability isn’t the issue, it’s humanity. We do not kill people for their disabilities, period. Therefore, unless we’re not human beings before we’re born, our disabilities should no more disqualify us from life before birth than they do after birth.

Furthermore, this pressure to abort handicapped babies is built largely on conjecture, on the mere “likelihood” that a child has some kind of disability. Often, the tests prove wrong, and more often still, these children, if allowed to live, end up with lives of joy and happiness that far exceeds those of their “more healthy” peers. Suffering and hardship are not bad things. They are means to a greater end, a crucial part of the human journey. Anyone who tries to eliminate suffering by killing the “sufferers” is establishing a horrific trend. It is not for us to decide who has a life worth living and who doesn’t, and we certainly wouldn’t want someone else making that decision for us!

In the end, this whole question of disability is a mere disguise to divert attention from abortion’s true agenda. The fact is, abortion advocates support killing babies whether they have disabilities or not. They’re not arguing that abortion should be limited to fetuses with severe handicaps. They’re arguing that the mother, alone, should have the right to kill her baby for any reason under the sun, and that is the most shocking reality of all.

WHAT IF THE MOTHER IS ADDICTED TO DRUGS?

It is not uncommon to hear an abortion advocate incredulously ask something like this, “Do you really think a coke-addict should be forced to have a baby that will grow up being addicted to crack and living on the street?” This, of course, is a loaded question, with poverty and disability concerns mixed in as well. It is essentially implying that a baby is better off dead than being born with a drug addiction. As with so many of the arguments that have come before it, it is assuming what it should be proving. There are children alive today who were born with drug addictions, and who are living with mothers who continue to use cocaine, and yet these children have every bit as much of a right to life as all of their more fortunate contemporaries. Drug addiction isn’t the issue, humanity is the issue.

Do we deal with drug addiction by killing everyone who is addicted to drugs? No we don’t. And we certainly wouldn’t suggest such treatment for those whose addiction is no fault of their own. The only reason abortion is offered as a legitimate solution for a child who may grow up addicted to narcotics is because those making the suggestion are ignorant (or worse) concerning the status of unborn children.

The tragic irony in America today is that, in most states, women can be prosecuted for “fetal abuse” if they take harmful drugs during their pregnancy, but these same women are perfectly free to hire someone to kill their baby if they so choose. Mothers are free to kill, but not free to harm?! The hypocrisy of such schizophrenic laws makes a mockery of justice. Embryos and fetuses should be protected from harm and death.

WHAT IF THE WOMAN WAS RAPED?

You can’t get very far in any discussion about abortion without considering the question of rape. Whereas the vast majority of pregnancies are the result of consensual sex, rape-based pregnancies present a unique dilemma. If a woman didn’t choose to engage in sex in the first place, should she have to carry to term a child that was the result of her forced union? The question should become much clearer if we add in some hypothetical details. Let’s say the woman does carry her child to term and decides to raise her son herself. After five years, however, she decides that the little boy’s presence in her life is too much of a burden. He looks too much like his biological father. Should that mother have the right to kill her five year-old son who was born to her as a result of sexual assault?

Obviously not. No matter what the circumstances are regarding the little boy’s conception, he is a human being with a right to life that cannot be taken away from him. But what about before the child is born, does this change anything? No, it doesn’t. Abortion is an act of violence that kills a living human being. The circumstances surrounding the conception do not change this simple reality. Rape and abortion share this in common. They are both acts of violent assault against an innocent victim. Aborting a child conceived through rape simply extends this pattern of violence and victimhood. It does not “unrape” the woman, but it will almost certainly increase her regret and misery. Whereas rape is an act of violence for which she bears no responsibility, abortion is an act of violence for which she would be morally culpable. Consider the following email, which came, unsolicited, to Abort73:

I just wanted to say that I am so pleased to read your stance on abortion in the case of rape. My mother was a 14-year-old girl who was raped, and she tried to have an abortion. The only reason I am alive today is because the doctor miscalculated her due date and thought she was too far in the pregnancy to have the abortion, when in reality he was a month off (this actually happened twice). It pains me every time I hear even die hard pro-lifers say “except in the case of rape.” I know it is traumatizing for a girl or woman that is raped to have to carry a child, but it is no more traumatizing than someone who gets shot during a violent attack and has to deal with those wounds. Counseling and therapy can help heal the trauma, but the trauma will be there whether she has the abortion or not, and the abortion could even make it worse. It has caused me so much anxiety over the years to think that many pro-lifers would have approved of my mother’s abortion. By the way, she gave me up for adoption, and my adoptive parents were never able to have children. Thank you so much for this wonderful view against abortion even in the case of rape.

That’s the perspective of someone conceived through rape, but what about a mother who was the victim of rape? Here is a portion of another email we received:

I am the single mother of a beautiful, fun-loving, bright young woman of 16 years of age. This Easter we celebrated the 17th anniversary of her conception. Raped by an acquaintance, my first consideration was abortion even though I had spoken out against it all my life… I considered abortion until I [determined it wasn’t] the right thing. I perused adoption and chose parents to give my baby to. I changed my mind and chose motherhood. I have provided, educated, clothed, fed, nursed, counseled, encouraged, and loved with all my heart the daughter of a man who violated the last virtue I was cherishing, my virginity… When interviewed about my experience several years ago, I was asked what I would a tell a young woman contemplating an abortion. After some careful consideration and a determination never to water down the truth I replied, “It is the hardest thing in the world to choose what you know is right. Being a single parent is no more easy than living with the haunting memory of aborting your child. No matter how hard you wish, either way your life will never be the same. Both have their pains and their struggles, however, only one choice afforded me a profound peace… Never have we been in want.  Never have I regretted my choice.  The scars of my experience have been healed… we show no signs of lack nor neglect…

Winnie Sherwood and her son, Ezekiel

Winnie Sherwood and her son, Ezekiel.

She is not alone in her experience:

When I was raped back in spring of 2006, I was devastated. I didn’t know where to turn so I hid the memory in the back of my mind, until I found out I was pregnant, then I couldn’t hide it any more. When I went to some friends, some told me to have an abortion, seeing as how the child is from rape it would be better that way. But one true friend told me to check out Abort73. I am so thankful that I did, because when my son Ezekiel was born (pictured at left), and I held him in my arms I couldn’t imagine loving him more, even through the struggle, he brings me so much joy. I am overwhelmed knowing that he is alive today. Thanks.” – Winnie Sherwood

Whenever abortion advocates bring up this question of rape, they do so disingenuously. The fact is, they think mothers should have the right to kill their unborn children no matter what the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy might be. They only ask about the “12 year-old girl forced to carry her father’s baby” because they know they can’t win the abortion debate on the merits. They appeal to the emotion of these extremely hard and rare cases because it helps mask their true agenda, which is abortion on demand. If it is not legitimate to kill a person conceived in rape after they’re born, then it is no more legitimate to kill that same person before they’re born. The question is humanity, not rape.

WHERE ARE WE GOING TO PUT ALL THESE PEOPLE?

From time to time, abortion advocates will argue that abortion is a necessary mechanism for ensuring that the world’s population does not surge out of control. “Without abortion,” they ask, “where would we put all of these extra kids?”

Assuming that the world is facing a population crisis, the most basic question we must answer is this. Is killing innocent human beings a legitimate way to drive population numbers down? Those who suggest that abortion is a good way to control the population will quickly assert that embryos and fetuses aren’t really human beings yet. This, of course, is the very point that they must prove before they can even begin to make such an argument. Since this is a point they can’t prove, they simply assume it to be true and move on.

Beyond the fact that overpopulation is not a sufficient moral rationale for killing off a portion of the population, the fact remains that the birth rate in the U.S. is only one of the factors influencing population growth. The Washington Post reports that 2006 marked the first time in 35 years that the U.S. fertility rate was high enough to sustain a stable population.4 From 1972-2005 the U.S. birth rate was below replacement (the rate necessary for a given generation to exactly replace itself). Why is that significant? The Post article comments further:

While the rising fertility rate was unwelcome news to some environmentalists, the “replacement rate” is generally considered desirable by demographers and sociologists because it means a country is producing enough young people to replace and support aging workers without population growth being so high it taxes national resources.

“This is a noteworthy event,” said John Bongaarts of the Population Council, a New York-based think tank. “This is a sign of demographic health. Many countries would like to be at this level.”

Europe, Japan and other industrialized countries have long had fertility rates far below the replacement level, creating the prospect of labor shortages and loss of cultural identity as the proportion of native-born residents shrinks in relation to immigrant populations.5

Reporting on the 2009 birth rate, the Centers for Disease Control notes that the U.S. birth rate is again in decline. Replacement levels were achieved in 2006 and 2007, but not in 20086 or 20097. There was a 3-4% decrease in 2009, after a 1% decrease in 2008. Nevertheless, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the U.S. population continues to grow by about one person every 12 seconds.8 Where is this growth coming from? USA Today tells us that between 2000-2005, roughly 7.9 million immigrants entered the United States.9 That is more than in any other five-year span in the nation’s history. Add to that the continued decline in the age-adjusted death rate, as reported in the Centers for Disease Control’s 2010 Health Report,10 and it becomes apparent that people in the United States are living much longer than they used to.

While birth rates have decreased, immigration and life expectancy has increased. Of the three factors that influence population growth, the number of babies being born is by far the least significant. And yet, does anyone suggest that killing immigrants or killing those over 65 is a reasonable way to limit population growth? No. So why would anyone suggest that killing unborn humans is a reasonable way to limit population growth?

WOMEN WILL DO IT ANYWAY

This final, last-ditch plea is essentially a concession that, yes, abortion is an act of violence. Yes, it kills a living human being. Yes, it is wrong, BUT… “women will do it anyway” (so it should be legal). Obviously, this is a very dangerous way to argue public policy, and it doesn’t work for two reasons.

First, every form of lawless behavior could be rationalized with this same, “people are going to do it anyway” argument. Banks are robbed every day. Does that mean we should make bank robbery legal? How about rape? Should we do away with all anti-rape legislation because women will be raped whether it’s lawful or not? Does anyone suggest doing away with red lights since people run them all the time? The list could go on and on. Laws against anti-social behavior do not eliminate such behavior altogether, but they drive the numbers way down.

Ostensibly, this argument is made in the name of safety. If women can’t abort legally, they’ll do so illegally, and it will be much more dangerous for them. While this claim is not true, even if it were, nothing would change. Abortion would still be unjustified. Wouldn’t it be absurd to try and legalize armed robbery by arguing that granting such measures would make it much safer for the burglars to obtain what they’re trying to steal? Laws must protect the potential victim, not the potential assailant.

The second problem with this “women will do it anyway” argument is that it only holds true for a small percentage of the population. One need only look at the frequency of abortion since it was first legalized to see that the legality of abortion plays a huge role in establishing a woman’s willingness to choose abortion. The Centers for Disease Control, which has tracked U.S. abortion data since 1969, reports that “[after the] nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973, the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions increased rapidly, reaching their highest levels in the 1980s.”11 In 1970, there were 193,491 legal abortions. In 1973, the first year in which abortion was legal in all 50 states, there were 615,831. By 1981, that number had more than doubled.12

If the legality of abortion didn’t influence a woman’s willingness to choose abortion, then we wouldn’t have seen such a massive increase in abortion frequency during the years following its legalization. And should abortion again be outlawed at a future date, it would cease to be a viable option for most American women. The evidence is clear, both as it relates to abortion and as it relates to all other anti-social behavior. Legislation cannot eliminate such behavior altogether, but it can drive the frequency way down, sparing countless innocent victims from the injustice that would otherwise be theirs.

Abortion is ethically unjust because it kills an innocent human being, and none of the scenarios listed on this page can change this simple fact.

This page was last updated on January 16, 2018. To cite this page in a research paper, visit: “Citing Abort73 as a Source.”

  1. C. Everett Koop, M.D., and Francis A. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1979), 49.
  2. Ibid, 56.
  3. Ibid, 69.
  4. Rob Stein. “U.S. Fertility Rate Hits 35-Year High, Stabilizing Population.” The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/20/AR2007122002725.html (Dec 21, 2007)
  5. Ibid.
  6. Joyce A. Martin, et al. “Births: Final Data for 2008” National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 59, Number 1, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_01.pdf (Dec 8, 2010), 1.
  7. Brady E Hamilton, et al. “Births: Preliminary Data for 2009” National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 59, Number 3, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_03.pdf (Dec 8, 2010), 1.
  8. U.S. POPClock Projection, http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html (Sep 1, 2011)
  9. Haya El Nasser and Kathy Kiely. “Study: Immigration grows, reaching record numbers” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-12-12-immigration_x.htm (Dec 12, 2005)
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health, United States, 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus10.pdf (February 2011), 135.
  11. Karen Pazol, Ph.D. et al. “Abortion Surveillance—United States, 2007” MMWR, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6001a1.htm?s_cid=ss6001a1_w (Feb 25, 2003), Table 2.
  12. Laurie D. Elam-Evans, Ph.D. et al. “Abortion Surveillance—United States, 2000” MMWR, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5212a1.htm (Nov 28, 2003), Table 2.

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