A Real Life Dialogue on Abortion
Several Days ago I hopped on to social media and posted the following to Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”:
This prompted a discussion with a gentleman I will refer to as “Nye Defender.” What resulted is what I believe is a helpful example of pro-life apologetics in action. My statements will appear in bold, when ND will appear in italics.
Nye Defender: Your point?
JT: I will not assume,, that you necessarily know of the recent video Mr. Nye posted claiming that those who claim that human life begins at conception “literally” have no idea what they are scientifically claiming. Placed in that context, the point above is clear. That human life begins at conception is an indisputable scientific and embryological fact. I have many such statements from a number of embryology textbooks to supplement this one if you are interested.
ND: Yes. I am quite aware of the video. He never said that am embryo was not the start of a human being. However, differentiating between the different stages of development is important. An embryo is a potential human being, but it is not yet one. These statements from these doctors do not refute anything Nye said in the video.
JT: An embryo is not a thing, it is a stage of development in the life of a thing, just as a toddler or teenager is not a thing but a stage of development. What is the thing? It is a human being. An embryo never “becomes” a human being. It is a human being at every level of development. It looks and acts just as any and every human being does at that stage. Also, please note that the quote I provided does address Nye’s claim in that fertilization begins a “human life,” not a potential human life.
ND: I never said it was a thing. An embryo is not a human being. It could not survive outside of the womb. This is why this is such a debate. There is much debate within the medical community and society as to what constitutes a human being. I support the idea that a human being does not exist until the stage of development where it could survive outside of the womb, generally the 3rd trimester. Until then, it is in various stages of development but is not fully a human being yet.
JT: Thank you for engaging in healthy discussion. It’s much more genuine, and less full of strawmen, than the words of Mr. Nye himself. You don’t strike me as an advocate of the “all pro-lifers are idiots” approach.
You touched upon a really important point when you write, “much debate within the medical community and society as to what constitutes a human being.” And your words highlight an important truth: the anthropological question of “What is a human?” is not a scientific question. It is in fact a philosophical/theological questions that presupposes a number of interrelated worldview questions. But that’s not to avoid the harder biological and scientific facts, but it is to acknowledge that other issues are at play.
And this is one of the things that I believe raises difficulties for your position. You stated, “I support the idea that a human being does not exist until the stage of development where it could survive outside of the womb, generally the 3rd trimester.” First, thank you for putting your cards on the table and making a concrete claim. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially compared to many abortion advocates who deny than human life begins at conception but refuse to say when it *does* start. Here is where I think the problem lies: defining human life in terms of viability 1) confuses biology with technology, and 2) proves too much.
I say that because viability, the ability for the fetus to survive outside of the mother’s body, is completely relative to technological advances in medicine. So the age of viability by that standard today would be different than the age of viability 30 years ago, and that would be different than 100 years before that, and therefore the answer to the question What is a human? Would keep changing. To make this point clear, it’s now strongly being argued that “Premature Babies May Survive at 22 Weeks if Treated” (see article attached).
[Incidently, this would also have the implication that you should considering opposing not only third trimester abortions, but also those in the second trimester (which lasts from week 13 to week 27).]
Another difficulty I would suggest you consider is that the viability of definition of human life proves too much. Why is that? Because newborn infants also cannot survive outside of the womb apart from outside sustenance. Would we be willing to deny their personhood based on that as well? If unborn babies inside the womb have no moral or legal standing based its ability to “survive” on their own outside of the womb, then neither should newborns babies outside of the womb.
My assumption is that you are *not* an advocate for infanticide.
ND: I don’t oppose anything when it is medically prudent for either the mother or the potential child. I support the right to choose. I do not believe the government, nor anyone else, has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. It should be up to her, the potential father (in some cases), and the doctor(s). I do not have the right to make a woman carry to term and give birth. The government does not have that right either. I do not advocate for people to undergo these procedures, but to have the right to make the decision that is best for them once presented with all necessary information.
JT: Just wanting to make sure I’m understanding you: Are you saying that you do not oppose infanticide?
ND: I did not say that. I did not even address that point because it is not relevant to the conversation. You are talking about killing a child who has been born already. That is a different argument from the discussion on abortion.
JT: Please help me understand the relevant moral distinction.
ND: We are not talking about the morals, because that is an entirely different debate. You asked about infanticide. It cannot be infanticide until the child is born. So, obviously I do not support the killing for a baby who has already been born. Once born, we should do everything we can to ensure its survival and health.
Again, I do not advocate for abortion. I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I support her right to make an informed decision for her own physical and mental health and that of her potential child. That is all I advocate for. It is not my place, your place, or anyone else’s, to make those decisions for someone else.
JT: Mr. _____ I’m not sure I understand what you mean to say when you say that the moral question of abortion is “an entirely different debate.” Civil laws are always a legislation of a moral perspective. Theft is illegal because it is deemed morally wrong, as is perjury, arson, and a host of illegal activities. And this is why, at the heart of the abortion debate is a moral issue. The true question is not one of “what a woman can or cannot do with her body.” That’s important, but handling that question is entirely dependent on another question, the primary question: What is the unborn? If the unborn is a human being, there is no moral justification for taking its life. If the unborn is not a human being, then no moral justification is necessary for abortion– just as there is no moral debate over the status of having one’s tooth pulled.
Much of what you have written already assumes your own position without defending it, thus begging the question. A woman is only free to do with her own body what she pleases if it is not used to bring harm to others. We must agree on this point. This is why it is illegal to strap a bomb on to our own bodies and walk into a crowded movie theater. Why? Because we would be using our bodies to harm others. I have provided you with biological evidence that what is growing in a mother’s womb is not her own body.
Abortion takes place within a woman’s body, not to a woman’s body, per se. The abortion happens to the body of the unborn as it is either burned with a saline solution, or ripped apart piece by piece out of the mother’s body. Unless we accept the absurd conclusion that each mother possesses 2 unique sets of DNA and generic make-up, we must acknowledge that the unborn is a unique, living, and distinct human person from the mother. If this is true, than the logic of the pro-life argument is valid. Again, a woman should have the (ethical) right to determine what is right for her own body in conjunction with her own doctor if and only if her body is not used to harm another person. If it is used in that way, she does not have the moral “right” to use it in that way.
Again, when you say “I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body,” the burden of proof falls on you to disprove the biological distinction between the mother and the unborn. Simply saying that it’s her body does not establish the claim.
Please reconsider the following argument. If the premises are true, the conclusion necessarily must be true. 1) Murder is morally wrong, 2) abortion is murder), 3) Therefore abortion is morally wrong.
The first premise is just about universally agreed upon by religious and non-religious people (here we must make the moral distinction between murder and killing). The second premise is true if the abortion is the intentional destruction of a living and biologically distinct human being (which is supported by the evidence provided in the link attached). If that is the case, premise 3 must follow, “Therefore abortion is morally wrong.”
ND: None of your initial points connected to the morality. If you want to discuss that, then that should be the focus. Everything until now has been about the definitions and the development process. I do not consider abortion to be murder, especially in the first trimester when the embryo or fetus would never be able to survive on its own anyways. You are using the concept of post hoc, ergo propter hoc to make a connection between things that are not definitively connected. Abortion is not defined as murder, therefore you cannot say it is morally wrong. I am no longer participating in this discussion because you will never see my view and I will never agree with your view either. Suffice it to say, as I have said repeatedly now, neither you nor the government gets to force a woman to carry an unwanted child (especially in the case of a rape or incest) to term and then to give birth to that child.
JT: The moral and medical are bound together. As I’ve tried to communicate (whether successfully or unsuccessfully), if premise 2 is established (that abortion is the destruction of a biologically distinct human person), and premise 1 is accepted (a nearly universal moral axiom that I didn’t bother to defend), the conclusion follows.
You have emphasized that you do not believe that abortion is murder “when the embryo or fetus would never be able to survive on its own.” This is the “viability” argument that I addressed earlier in our discussion. Would you please consider responding to what I said there? Likewise, I fail to see how I committed the “post hoc” fallacy. You failed to even explain how this was committed (perhaps believing that it is self-evident?) Whether it is self-evident I will leave to others to decide.
Rape and incest are horrible, abominable crimes (though, in statistically proven data they make up approx. 1% of abortion cases), and violators should be prosecuted harshly. Nevertheless those horrible actions wherein the mother is violated should not be used to justify further violence to another innocent party. What is needed is love for the victim, love that is concretely shown in support, encouragement, and finances. Pro-lifers must “put their money where their mouth is.” But there is no widespread lack of this considering there are far more crisis pregnancy centers and advocacy groups than there are abortion clinics.
In the name of intellectual honesty, I hope you will acknowledge to yourself that you have not defended, supported, or argued in favor of your position. You have merely asserted it and assumed it. I do pray that perhaps you will at least reread what I’ve written and consider the arguments, even if you are not inclined to agree.
Thank you for engaging in a civil discussion.
ND: I will reread what you have written. However, under no circumstance do I believe that a woman should be forced to carry a child . That would be cruel to the woman, especially in the case of rape or incest. It is irrelevant that those cases only make up a small portion of abortions. The fact is that they cases do exist.
I do not understand how someone who was not a willing participant in the act of conception should be forced to spend the next 9 months of her life with the constant reminder of that event and putting her body through the pregnancy. How is that right? I just do not understand that stance. I suppose I never will because I cannot put myself in the place of a woman and understand what she is going through at that point. I will also never understand how anyone can believe that the government should have a right to tell a woman that she should have to carry a child that is not wanted. I just don’t get it. Whether you believe abortion is right or wrong, the fact is that no one should be making that decision for another person.
JT: And yet, laws in fact do, all the time and always, “tell people what to do.” But you haven’t responded to this. As I said, a woman’s rape is a horrible, demonic act of violation. But that act does not change the medical fact that her “desire” for the child (or lack thereof) does not make the unborn less human. If a mother of a newborn that resulted from rape decides to kill the baby because it reminds her of her violation, would that be permissible? No, it wouldn’t, and I’m confident most people would say because the baby is a human being. And I would agree- We shouldn’t kill humans. And so, as I noted earlier, the one essential question is this: Is the unborn a human?
All the other questions are important in various ways, but they can only be addressed and answered rightly if we get to the heart of that one central question.