Recently I rewatched most of an abortion debate I attended a couple of years ago at Wayne State University here in Detroit. The debate was between Nadine Strossen, professor of Law at New York Law School and former president of ACLU, and Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute. One of the values of a debate is hearing the best arguments from the other side. A good apologist should know the strongest arguments against his position, and if possible be able to present them in a better fashion than someone who holds them. A debate can help you learn what those arguments are and see how they can be presented well.
After rewatching the debate, I largely confirmed my response after initially watching the debate—I find it very hard to see how the logic of the pro-choice position is convincing to anyone. Nadine Strossen, who was presenting the pro-choice position, offered the following arguments for the right to have an abortion.
- There is legal support for the position: the judicial courts have consistently held a constitutional right to abortion. Additionally, no justice has recognized a fetus as a legal person with legal rights.
- There is religious support for the position: Many religious leaders have supported abortion.
- There is medical support for the position: Medical professionals believe abortion can be the right choice.
- There is moral confusion about the issue: Because people have different views, no law should impose a particular religious view on an individual.
- There is a greater moral need: We need to care for the actual life of women more than the potential life of a fetus.
- Until a fetus is viable, it is moral to abort a fetus. Only after the fetus crosses the line of viability is it immoral.
In contrast, Scott Klusendorf offered a succinct argument that abortion is immoral.
- It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being
- Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
- Therefore abortion is wrong
He largely assumed the first premise, and offered the clear, consistent, scientific conclusion of embryology that from the moment of conception the fetus is a unique human being to support the second premise. As he emphasizes in his introductory statements, the truth that the unborn child is a unique human being ends all of the other arguments. Judicial courts have often made morally wrong rulings. Medical science cannot answer moral questions. Religious leaders do not always get things right. And any argument that grants personhood to some humans and not others opens the door to gross injustice.
And if you want to argue that the different views people have creates uncertainty, then you should actually oppose abortion. If you do not know whether or not the unborn is a human being, you should not kill it since at the minimum you would be committing gross negligence—similar to someone fumigating a building without knowing if anyone was inside (see this argument fleshed out more here under skepticism).
Klusendorf also makes a compelling logical argument against making viability the distinguishing line for the morality of abortion.
Viability does not measure the value of the fetus. It measures our technology. A fetus is viable at 22 weeks at a state of the art New York City hospital, but not viable until 38 weeks in Bangladesh. So let’s do a little thought experiment. A woman who is pregnant at 24 weeks gets on a plane at JFK. She flies to Bangladesh, where viability is 38 weeks. And then she flies home. So what happens to her child? Does it go from being a person in New York, where it could be born—viable—to a non-person when it leaves U.S. airspace, back to being a person again when it flies home? This is crazy! And leads to terrible inequality.
I came away from the debate convinced that logic is clearly on the side of the pro-life position. So why were people (as evidenced by some of the questions from the audience in the debate) still adamant in their support of the pro-choice position? While logic is on the side of the pro-life position, the pro-choice position often utilizes political polarization and emotional appeal.
For many, the fact that the pro-life position is a conservative position makes it worthwhile to oppose—regardless of logic or facts. For others, the primary driver is the rights and empowerment of women. They warn against women risking their lives doing homemade abortions in an alley or push back against powerful men telling women what to do “with their bodies.”
So it is important to offer the logical case for the pro-life position. But logic is not what drove many to the pro-choice position, and it will be unlikely in itself to move them away from it. If those who hold to the pro-life position want to be persuasive, we may need to make the argument less political and include more affective matters.