Sanctity of Life Sunday

Author Greg Koukl Published on 04/02/2013

Most issues raised in the abortion debate are red herrings that drag us off the track of the pertinent questions.

Is there any situation or circumstance where an abortion may be ethically acceptable if you are a Christian? First, being a Christian has nothing to do with this issue. One might suggest that Christians ought to know better on this issue or that one would expect they’d be more morally sensitive. But whether one is a Christian or not has absolutely nothing to do with whether this particular action, abortion, is right or wrong because this question is a human question, not a question of partisan, religious ideology, regardless of how the pro-abortion advocates have tried to frame it. It is a question about basic human rights and basic human respect.

Which brings up another issue for me. I’d say 75-80% of the popular discussion and debate on this issue is not on this issue at all. Most issues that are raised in the abortion debate are red herrings, irrelevant considerations that drag one off the track of the pertinent questions. In other words, most of the so-called complexities of this question have little to do with the true issues. They are irrelevant.

I’ve heard some professional thinking types, media persons, educators, reflect as they shake their heads solemnly, “Ah, yes, abortion. It’s a very complex issue. There are no easy answers.” It’s not a complex issue at all. It has been made complicated, but there’s very little that is complex about it. When one clears the brush of the insignificant, the irrelevant, the ad hominems, the character assassination, the name calling, the straw men, the circular reasoning, the medical misinformation, the emotional language on both sides, the issues become very clear and, I contend, reasonably easy to answer.

Let me give you an example. One of the so-called issues is the “choice” issue, the question of the rights a woman has over her own body. “I have a right to do anything I want with my body,” some women claim. This statement raises some salient questions about the source of rights, questions that have implications for natural law—theistic implications, ultimately. Questions that I think when answered soundly result in some embarrassment for those who relegate morality to individual choice.

Remember, all alleged rights claims in this issue depend on what you understand the fetus to be, because the question to have a right to something depends upon a prior decision about what that something is that you’re discussing. You don’t have an absolute right to do anything you want. The statement also begs the question about whether the individual child inside the woman is really her body or someone else’s body domiciled, nesting inside of her.

Aside from those two serious problems the statement itself is patently false. A woman cannot do anything she wants with her own body in this country—or any civilized country, for that matter—and neither can a man. It’s hard to think of any liberty that is autonomous, existing unrestrained and unfettered by other concerns and legal limitations. Virtually all so-called rights have limits. Choice is a red herring. It’s not the real issue.

Neither is privacy the real issue. The statement, “I can do what I please in private” is also patently false. Can we do anything in privacy? Or more to the point, as my friend Jeff Cannon pointed out, “Can you go into a closet and murder someone and then claim protection on grounds of your right to privacy?” Of course not. It seems patently self-evident that the right to life always preempts the right to privacy. The law routinely invades our privacy for much less weighty reasons.

No, the fundamental question is not about privacy or choice or a host of other equally misleading candidates for center stage. Rather, the fundamental question is simple, as I stated in the beginning. It is this: is the unborn child a separate, living, human being, a person whose rights should be protected? Or is it not separate, not living, and not a human person and, therefore, has little or no rights.

If you answer no to the first question, that an unborn child is not a separate, living human being with inalienable rights—and that assertion can be defended with sound medical facts and rational thinking—then no defense of abortion for any reason is necessary. You can have an abortion anytime you want as frequently as you want and you can do anything you want with whatever that is in there which is not a separate individual life that has unalienable rights. I don’t care if you eat it, frankly, if it’s not a person in that regard.

If, however, the answer is yes, the child is a separate, living, human being, a person whose rights should be protected, then no defense for abortion is adequate, regardless of the circumstances. End of issue.

Incidentally, I believe the burden of proof is on the those who would counter the testimony of history, morality and medicine on this issue. The burden of proof is on the pro-abortionist.

As one of my ethics students put it, “When it gets right down to it, most people think the status of the fetus depends on whether they want it or not.” That’s the sad truth. Most people do ethics by deciding what it is they want and then reason as best they can ethically from that point.