The “Murder” of a Fetus

Author Greg Koukl Published on 04/02/2013

If the California state statutes use the term “murder” to describe the killing of a fetus, then why can’t pro-lifers use the same language?

Certain kinds of objections come up every time violence is perpetrated against an abortion provider. Though pro-lifers are, almost to a person, against the bombing of abortion clinics, most use the term “murder” to describe what goes on there. The use of this terminology makes some observers wonder how pro-lifers can be against abortion violence when it allegedly stops murder.

I don’t think pro-lifers have been careful here to articulate a sensible response, so they get stuck in this dilemma. I think this is a false dilemma and give some reasons why in “Pro-Lifers on the Horns of a False Dilemma.” But there is another aspect of this issue.

Pro-abortionists have been very upset with pro-lifers who refer to abortion as “murder” and a modern day “holocaust” because this rhetoric, they say, incites people to violence.

The whole objection hinges on whether or not abortion takes the life of an innocent human being or not. This is the issue that is almost never addressed. Objectors simply throw up their arms and say, “Quit making these inflammatory statements. It only causes more trouble.”

Silence is certainly one solution. Empty, inflammatory rhetoric causes unnecessary problems. If that’s all pro-lifers are doing, then they should stop. But what if their comments aren’t rhetoric? What if innocent human beings are being killed simply because they’re in the way and can’t defend themselves? The real solution then is to stop the killing, not stop the objections.

The pro-life view is that sensible people are being aroused for a good reason. It’s not because pro-lifers say children are being murdered, but because pro-lifers are convinced that children are being murdered. It happens over 4,000 times a day; 1.3 million per year; 35 million over the last 25 years. I’d say that the word “holocaust” properly applies to that activity, if that’s what’s really happening.

Of course, that’s the rub. Which view is right? Is it rhetoric or is it reality?

I hold in my hands copies of the California State Statutes. My understanding is that on the issue before us, the situation is the same in virtually every state in the country. I’m reading: “Section 187, Murder defined: death of a fetus. Paragraph A—Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.”

Please make careful note of this legal statement. This is not rhetoric. I’m quoting from the California statute. According to current California law, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being—including a human fetus—with malice aforethought.

The statute restricts this definition with a caveat: “This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act which results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply: 1. The act complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act, Chapter 11 of Division 20 of the Health and Safety Code. 2. The act was committed by a holder of a physician’s and surgeon’s certificate as defined in the Business and Professions Code. 3. The act was solicited, aided and abetted and consented to by the mother of the fetus.”

Let me clarify what’s actually being stated here. The California legal code says that taking the life of an unborn child is murder under the homicide statutes, and is punishable as such, unless it’s an abortion done by a physician with the mother’s consent.

Something ought to strike you as odd here. How does the blameworthy taking of an innocent human life become justifiable simply because Mom says it’s okay and a doctor does it?

That’s bizarre. Either a human being is valuable or she isn’t. Since human beings are not chattel property, it doesn’t strike me as legitimate to disqualify the value of any human simply by the fact that Mom doesn’t want her.

This is a serious problem of coherency in the law. If Mom says so, an otherwise valuable human being becomes a worthless encumbrance that can be discarded and destroyed, as long as the destruction is done at an abortion clinic by a doctor.

It also raises an odd conundrum—and Dr. Frank Beckwith has made this point. What do you do when you have a mother who’s driving to an abortion clinic intent on terminating her pregnancy, who’s fetus is killed when the abortionist who’s to perform that abortion runs a red light and crashes into the mother’s car?

The same doctor, the same mother, the same baby, who is now dead consistent with the ultimate intention of both the mother and the abortionist. In this case, though, the doctor is guilty of homicide. If he’d have just waited a few more minutes and not run the light, but killed the same baby through D&C abortion or saline abortion or even partial-birth abortion, the very same baby could have been killed legally. Odd, isn’t it?

More to the point, the California statutes themselves call the killing of a fetus murder. And if the California statutes call it murder, I don’t know why pro-lifers are accused of “wielding irresponsible rhetoric” when they do the same.

So, if somebody says you shouldn’t use the term “murder” to describe the killing of an unborn through abortion, ask “Why not?” The homicide statutes of the State of California call it murder. It seems to me we’re justified in using that term as well.

It isn’t simply rhetoric. The mere fact that one is legal and the other is not doesn’t seem to change what it is: the unjustified killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Sounds like murder to me.