When It Comes to Abortion, No One Talks about the One Question that Matters. It's the One Question the President Never Asks.


Answering this One Question Solves the Abortion Controversy....


      When President Clinton vetoed the ban on partial-birth abortion for a second time on October 10, there's one thing he didn't discuss:  abortion. 

      The President talked about choice and privacy.  He mentioned the risk to the mother of carrying a child to term, and the trauma of delivering an infant with serious congenital defect. 

      Responding to any of these issues, however, requires an answer to a prior question about the nature of abortion itself.  On this question there was an unusual silence.

      In the last nine days I've spoken at four different banquets for crisis pregnancy centers, but I had only one message:  Any moral ambiguity regarding abortion--including partial-birth abortion--can be removed by answering just one question.  It's a question no one talks about.


Only One Question[1]

      Imagine that your child walks up when your back is turned and asks, "Daddy, can I kill this?"  What is the first thing you must find out before you can answer him?  You can never answer the question "Can I kill this?" unless you've answered a prior question:  What is it?

      Abortion involves killing and discarding something that's alive.  Whether it's right or not to take the life of any living thing depends entirely upon what kind of being it is.  The answer one gives is pivotal, the deciding element that trumps all other considerations. 

      Let me put the issue plainly.  If the unborn is not a human being, no justification for abortion is necessary.  However, if the unborn is a human being, no justification for abortion is adequate.

      Some say the unborn is not a human being.  They contend it's just a non-viable tissue mass, merely a part of a woman's body.  Others say it's only a "potential" human, or a human that is not yet a person.  If any of these options turn out to be true, then it's hard to imagine how any additional considerations could make a difference.  No further defense would be necessary.  Have the abortion.

      On the other hand, maybe the unborn child is a bona fide human being, deserving of the same care and protection you and I enjoy.  If that's the case, then abortion takes the life of an innocent child simply because she's in the way and can't defend herself.  This is not a reason to kill another human being.

      This distinction simplifies what, to many, seems to be an intractable moral problem.  Talk-show hosts, educators, politicians, even religious thinkers reflect and nod solemnly, "Oh, yes, abortion.  It's a very complex issue.  There are no easy answers." 

      Answering the foundational question "What is it?" removes the complexity.  When one clears away the irrelevant thoughts on both sides--the name calling, the misrepresentations, the circular reasoning, the medical misinformation, the emotional language--the issue becomes very clear and, I think, reasonably easy to answer.  The hard part is applying what we discover.


Cutting the Gordian Knot

      The answer to this most fundamental question--What is the nature of the unborn?--is the key to answering virtually every other objection about abortion.  Most issues raised in the abortion debate are irrelevant rabbit-trails that drag us off the track of the only pertinent consideration.  Here are some examples.

      "Women have the right to privacy with their doctors."  Certainly, we all have a right to a measure of privacy.  No privacy argument, though, is a legitimate cover for a conspiracy to do serious harm to another innocent human being.  The law routinely invades our privacy when another human's welfare is at stake. The right to privacy, for example, does not protect parents from charges of sexual or physical abuse of their children.  If the unborn are human persons, we ought to protect them, just as we do other defenseless children.  Privacy is not the real issue. 

      "But women should have the freedom to choose."  When you think about it, no one has unrestricted freedom to choose.  The freedom depends on what kind of choice one has in mind.  We have freedom to choose whether to have children or not, but we don't have the freedom to simply eliminate toddlers who get burdensome or costly.  Regarding abortion, the real question is not choice, but whether or not a pregnant woman already has a child, even though it's hidden from view.

      "Making abortion illegal forces women into back-alleys with coat hangers."  This argument certainly has force if we're merely talking about personal, elective surgery.  Why burden a woman with the additional risk of a dangerous, septic environment to have her operation?  But if a human child is involved, then the picture changes dramatically.  Why should the law be faulted for making it more risky for anyone to kill another innocent person?  The fact that bank robbery is dangerous to the felon doesn't seem to be a good reason to make grand larceny legal.

      "But these children create a drain on the economy."  This objection is easily put into perspective with a simple question.  When human beings get expensive, do we kill them?  There are many others who are burdensome to society, too.  Shall we remove them with one lethal, final solution?  No, we don't do that to human beings.  If an unborn is a human being, we shouldn't do that to him, either.

      "Unwanted children shouldn't be allowed to come into the world."  This may be a good argument for birth control, but not for abortion if a real human child is already in the world, albeit not visible to the casual observer.

      "Women shouldn't have to continue a pregnancy that is a result of rape."  In a recent presidential race, a woman asked the candidates, "If I am viciously raped by a brutal criminal, would you oppose a first-trimester abortion, knowing that a continued pregnancy would cause me mental and emotional anguish?"

      The question was somewhat loaded.  All rapes are vicious, brutal, and criminal, and all emotional anguish is mental anguish.  She chose her words carefully.  Disagree and everyone would know how callous the candidate was. 

      Certainly, carrying a child under these conditions can be emotionally devastating.  The question is misleading, though, because it doesn't capture the real issue:  Why should the child pay with his own life for his father's crime? 

      The real question is this:  How ought we treat another innocent human being who reminds us of a terribly traumatic experience?

      The point can be made more obvious with a follow-up question.  If the guilty rapist is caught, would we allow the woman to shoot him because of the emotional relief or mental satisfaction it would give her?  If not, then why should she be allowed to kill her innocent child for the same reason?

      "But that's different," one might reply.  "The rapist is a human person."  Precisely.  One's humanity is the relevant issue.  No matter how bad any criminal is, we still respect his life by not summarily executing him.  In the same way, if there is no difference between the kind of being the brutal criminal is and the kind of being the unborn is, then the child's life deserves the same respect.

      "What if the mother's life is in danger?"  When two people are drowning and you can only save one, a choice must made.  You can either act to save one, or not act at all and both drown.  When you decide to neglect one on behalf of the other, it is not a choice to kill one, but to save the other. 

      In the same way, if there is a high probability a woman's pregnancy will kill her, then abortion is justified.  Here's why.  It's better that one human should live, the mother, than that two should die, the mother and her child.  In such cases, the intent is not to kill the unborn--though that's an unavoidable result--but to save the life of the mother. 

      In this case as in the others, answering the question "What is the fetus?" helps us unravel what seems at first to be a difficult ethical dilemma.  The ambiguities disappear when you treat the unborn child as fully human and fully valuable, just like the mother.

      You might think of other concerns I haven't mentioned.  Each can be dispatched with a simple test question.  Ask, "What would be the relevance of this objection if we were talking about a bona fide human being?" 

      In none of these examples am I arguing that the unborn is an example of a human person.  That is another issue.  I'm merely pointing out that there's just one issue to resolve, not many.  Answering the one question "What is the unborn?" answers almost all the others. 

      If the unborn child is a human being, then he should be treated like any other human being when facing life-and-death ethical questions.  The unborn child deserves the same protections as a 2-year-old, a 20-year-old, or a 90-year-old.  Age is not a relevant factor disqualifying a human being from being valuable.


One More Question

      There's one more question I asked the guests at the CPC banquets, and it's my final question to you:  Should you do something to stop abortion? 

      Once again, answering the first question "What is the unborn?" makes the answer to the final question crystal clear.  If the unborn is not a helpless, innocent human being, don't trouble yourself.  If it is, then children are being killed for frivolous reasons, and you must do something.


Were You Ever an Unborn Child?

      It doesn't seem to make sense to say you once were a sperm or an egg.  Does it make sense, though, to talk about yourself before you were born?  Did you turn in your mother's womb or kick when you were startled by a loud noise?  Did you suck your thumb?  Were those your experiences or someone else's?

      If you were once the unborn child your mother carried, then you must accept an undeniable truth:  killing that child through abortion would have killed you.  Not a potential you.  Not a possible you.  Not a future you.  Abortion would have killed you

      This is why abortion is tragic.  It kills more than a human body.  It kills a valuable human being.  --GK, Precious Unborn Human Persons




[1]The following material has been adapted from the Stand to Reason publication, Precious Unborn Human Persons.

Greg Koukl