For the Silent Voices: A Pro Life Series

Author Lance Phelps - 10 minute read

Babies are murdered everyday. At one time we as a race could say that we spent more of our time killing those who at least had the possibly of defending themselves, however wretched those killings might have been. I believe that this point in our history as a race reveals a depravity so deep that one might faint if they had not grown up desensitized and sheltered from the carnage, as we are. For now we kill babies in their mothers wombs. And not just for the relatively isolated human sacrifices to the gods that once was (and, really, still is). Now we kill babies by the millions. The fact that I could write that last sentence with any semblance of truth attached to it is heartbreaking. The world kills babies. By. The. Millions. Can we take a second and actually react to the reality of this? How are we not be crying out in our streets to end the mass slaughter? What has gone wrong?

The answer to that last question is complicated. And it will take more then just an article series to answer this question. But here, for what it is worth, is where I will start with my answer to this question.

At the heart of the abortion issue rests one overarching question: Is abortion a form of murder? In other words, does abortion involve the willful destruction of a living human person? - R. C. Sproul

The Starting Point: A Most Philosophical Issue

The issue of abortion is an ethical one. But it is also equally an ontological one (adjective: the ideas about the nature of our being). Therefore this is a philosophical issue. It is common to hear that the conclusion that abortion is wrong is “unscientific” or that “this is a medical issue so only qualified doctors can form conclusions.” But these statement display an ignorance of the core issue of the nature of personhood.

The key question that we all must answer—and the question that determines how we view abortion—is this: What is contained in the womb? Is it a person? Or is it merely an embryo, a fetus? - David Platt

The Nature of Personhood

What makes you a person? And what is a person for that matter? In western culture today we tend to think of a person as one who has certain rights and who can be held accountable for ethical violations. If a person murders another person, for example, then we must consider what to do with the murderer. Both persons in our culture are thought to have the right to life. Yet one person has violated that right of another person. So what do we do with this person? If this person had killed an animal it would not be an issue; because we consider animals to not be persons and therefore to not have the right to life or freedom.

Now the issue of abortion can be understood more clearly. If the life in the womb is akin to an animal (not possessing personhood) then we need not fuss over the choice of the parents to terminate an inconvenience on their chosen lifestyle. After all if a couple had an ailing dog that would be a financial burden they would have the freedom to take it to the vet to be put down, would they not? So the answer to this question is everything: is the baby a person?

Sit Down Child, The Scientists are Speaking

At this point many pro-choice advocates turn to popular scientists to answer this question. The scientific method has given us so many answers to so many problems. We can now cure many diseases that at one point loomed like the angel of death over our heads. We can now produce more food, make better conveniences, live longer, and do so many other things hitherto thought impossible. So since science has given us so much, surely it could furnish the answer to the personhood of a baby. Right?

To understand this let’s turn to a syllogism.

  1. Science has produced answers to many practical problems.

  2. The problem of the personhood of a baby is a practical problem.

  3. Therefore science can answer the practical problem of the personhood of a baby.

This is the logical train that many take regarding this issue. But there are problems: the question of the babies personhood is not a practical problem. Therefore the second premise is not true. And this makes the conclusion false. Further, this conclusion is a non sequitur (noun: a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement) on the face of it: why should we conclude that science can actually solve this problem because it has solved other problems?

But the issue of the personhood of a baby is never claimed by the scientific method as something that it is qualified to answer. The scientific method can tell us what is true in the natural world and what might be in the natural world but it cannot tell us why this matters. The scientific method cannot tell us what ought (noun: used to indicate duty or correctness) to be, only what is. Ethical rights and personhood are concerned with what ultimately ought to be not necessarily what is. Although in some senses personhood is a statement of what is, namely, is the baby a person? The nature of this question is fundamentally and ultimately concerned with what ought to be, not with what is. So it is really a question of ought not is.

The questions of what ought to be, and by extension personhood, are philosophical and theological questions. So if ever you hear a popular scientist declaring that a baby is not a person after he describes some natural facts, you have then heard a bad philosopher speak.

Isn’t This Just a Medical Issue for the Doctors to Answer?

This question is tightly linked to the last. The medical community, just as the scientific community, cannot tell us what ought to be based solely on their field of study. They must import a whole slew of philosophical and theological assumption in order to answer this question.

But does that mean that those who are not medical philosophers must remain silent on this issue? Not at all. For what does a medical professional have in the way of secret knowledge that any philosopher or theologian does not? Besides, as we will see in the next article, the nature of personhood is not based primarily on medical or scientific grounds (yes, I know that I am a science heretic by suggesting that science does not have all the answers).

Conclusion

We have just seen that the nature of personhood is the foundational issue that answers the question of abortion. Further, we have discovered that the Science and the Medical communities are not equipped by virtue of their field of study to be the arbiters of this issue. The issue is a philosophical and, as we will see in the next article, a theological issue.

In the next article we will answer the question of personhood. From where does our personhood flow? Who says that we are persons and not animals?