Monday, December 16, 2013

Being Pro-Life Means Respecting Human Dignity

We all know that the reason we consider ourselves pro-life is because we believe in respecting the life of the unborn. The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, so that is the right that holds the most weight in the moral equation. But did you know that the pro-life position is also the position that respects human dignity?

Human beings are rational agents. This means that we have a level of rationality, unmatched by any other creature in the animal kingdom, to contemplate ethics and act in a way that is either moral or immoral. And since we are rational creatures, we are also responsible for the choices that we make.

So the pro-life position entails that we not only protect human life, but we also protect human dignity. It does this in at least two ways:

By protecting unborn human beings.

By respecting the unborn's right to life, we are also respecting their liberty. Since we understand that the right to life is a basic human right, established when the human comes to be at fertilization, this prevents us from mistreating the unborn. Most abortion methods are gruesome procedures, resulting in dismembering the unborn in the womb. We treat convicted murderers better than we treat the unborn. Even in the states where capital punishment is allowed, care is taken to put the criminal to death in a "humane" way. We don't allow torturous capital punishment methods, like crucifixion or strapping someone to the rack and pulling them apart limb by limb. So protecting human life prevents us from torturing, killing, or otherwise mistreating the unborn.

By holding people responsible for their actions.

The pro-choice position entails that if a woman makes a "mistake" and gets pregnant, she can just undo the action by having an abortion and not being pregnant anymore. Obviously, one cannot reverse time. Having an abortion doesn't erase the problem, it just compounds it by killing an innocent human being. But the pro-choice position is also problematic because it holds that a couple should not be held responsible for performing an act they knew could result in pregnancy, conceiving a human child.

If we don't hold people responsible for their actions, not only are we treating them like children who "didn't know any better," we are not respecting their human dignity as rational beings. Rationality is an essential property of who you are; without your rational nature, you would not be "you" (in the same way, sweetness is an essential property of cookies; if you are baking a cookie and you put salt and not sugar in the mix, it will come out as salty and even though it will look like a cookie, it won't really be a cookie). Since rationality is essential to being human, if we do not hold people responsible for their actions, we're treating them as no better than lower animals, like dogs, who are not morally culpable for their actions. Not holding someone accountable for their actions is an affront to their very nature.

Much of my thought on ethics and human dignity have been influenced by Immanuel Kant (and philosophers who have been influenced by Kant). Here is a good essay to read for a little more information on Kant's view of human dignity.

Now obviously the second point does not hold if a woman is raped, or if she is mentally challenged to the point where she doesn't truly understand her actions. I would still argue that abortion is wrong in these cases, for other reasons (see my article here for my thoughts on abortions in the case of rape). But this is why it is so important that we end legalized abortion. Not only to protect the innocent unborn, but also because the very act of abortion is an affront to human dignity. The unborn deserve better. Women deserve better.


Jameson Graber said...

This post is not helpful. For one, it commits a straw man fallacy: no one defends abortion by saying women are in any sense comparable to children who didn't know better, nor do I find any serious argument that abortion "undoes" pregnancy. Second, it seems like allying the pro-life position to Kantian anthropology and ethics does nothing for the movement, as there are many reasons to have problems with Kant (which have nothing to do with abortion). Third, the post appropriates language from Feminists for Life, i.e. "Women deserve better," without giving credit, and without paying any attention to the content of FFL's mission, which includes establishing some manner of social services for women in order to make childbearing more feasible despite financial hardships and, yes, mistakes.

Finally, the whole argument begs the question. In some philosophical sense, perhaps holding people responsible for their actions is a way of affirming their dignity. But that is a point which has little to do with abortion in particular, and anyone not already in agreement on abortion will likely take offense at its application to this issue. Just think of someone who (like me) would argue that drugs should be legal. What would such a person think about the argument that the government respects our dignity by holding us responsible for possessing drugs? It would sound like a rather disgusting argument, because the reality appears to be very much the contrary. So I imagine it would be for an abortion supporter.

argent said...

I have to agree with Jameson here; I think this one misses the mark. "The destruction of a human being is an ethical option for family planning" is where the pro-choice argument breaks down, not "people should have access to all ethical options for family planning".

If they do so in ethical ways, people can and should be able to "avoid the consequences of their actions"; for example, it would hardly be affirming of human dignity to deny lung cancer treatment to a smoker.

Clinton said...

Respectfully, I think you've completely missed the point of this article.

1) There is no straw man fallacy being committed here. I am not responding to any argument, rather I am responding to the implications of legalized abortion, which is "giving women a way out" and not holding them responsible for sexual conduct which they know full well has a chance of resulting in creation of a new human being. The other implication is that abortion "undoes" pregnancy because you can essentially have sex, "reverse time" by aborting the pregnancy, then go back to her life as if nothing ever happened. So again, I'm responding to the *implications* of legalized abortion, not any pro-choice argument for legalized abortion.

2) Kant's metaphysics and ethics are still widely accepted today (and of course, also rejected by some philosophers). But that's irrelevant, if what Kant argued was *true.* You can't reject Kantian metaphysics and ethics just because "there are many reasons to have problems with Kant" (and you didn't even give me one).

3) If this is true, then I will edit it to give them credit. But I see the phrase "women deserve better than abortion" used by many people and organizations, with no one giving credit to the person or organization who originated it. If FFL originated it, then I certainly do wish to give them credit for it. However, this post is not a post about feminism, it is a post about respecting human dignity and nature, so talking about social services and other things would be beyond the scope of this article.

4) I'm not begging the question here. If someone has a problem with considering humans to be "rational agents," then I can support that statement, but I consider it to be axiomatic. I think it has everything to do with abortion (for the reasons given in this article). I'm just giving one more reason not to support abortion, and looking at the issue from a different angle. I've written many articles for SPL about biological humanity, personhood, bad arguments, etc., that I don't want to just re-hash old articles. Not everyone may agree with this, and that's fine, but if someone disagrees they need *reasons* that I am wrong about this. So whether someone takes offense is likewise irrelevant, because offensive arguments can be right, and the issue itself is offensive. Pro-choice women are offended that I'm a pro-life man speaking out against abortion. You just can't avoid offending some people.

I don't see why the argument would be seen as disgusting if you apply it to the drug issue. I think the argument works just as well. In fact, the reason there are laws at all is because human beings are rational agents who need to be held responsible for our actions (and why we don't hold animals responsible for theirs; e.g. if I stray into a bear's den and get mauled by a bear, the bear won't be tried for murder, I will be the one that people will say was in the wrong as I should have been more careful where I was going).

Clinton said...

See my response to Jameson, as it largely applies to yours. I'll just take a moment to respond to your other point:

Getting treatment for lung cancer and having an abortion if a woman "accidentally" gets pregnant are two different things entirely. The person is still responsible for getting lung cancer, even if treatment would be permitted, but the difference is that in one cancer you're destroying a dangerous cancer and in the other you're destroying an intrinsically valuable human being. Just like there would be nothing wrong with trying to lose weight after you've gained fifty pounds from eating nothing but junk food for most of your life, you would still be responsible for your weight gain. But again, losing weight does not result in the death of a human being.

Jameson Graber said...

"the difference is that in one [case] you're destroying a dangerous cancer and in the other you're destroying an intrinsically valuable human being."

That's why this whole argument is question begging--you have to assume people agree that abortion destroys an instrinsically valuable human being in order to make your point. Really, this post has nothing to do with abortion. You're just talking about why having laws is a way of respecting the dignity of our rational nature.

LN said...

Like Jameson said, I think a PCer could fully agree that people should be responsible for their choices. They would also agree that in many scenarios, that "responsibility" doesn't rule out options which help the responsible person. They'd agree that an option is viable so long as it doesn't hurt other people.

And that seems to be the crux of this blog post.

But it reminds me a lot of the Walk for Life where the theme now seems to be, "Women deserve better than abortion" -- as if the crux of the argument is women's rights. But (1) some women are much happier after abortion, so what about them? and (2) abortion is primarily wrong because it kills a human being, so why don't we focus on that?

By focusing on the whole "we are treating you with dignity by holding you responsible," we would elicit a response of, "yeah but, like a person with self inflicted lung cancer, just because it's my fault doesn't mean I can't seek medical help." Because we wouldn't be arguing the main point: that abortion kills a human being and therefore isn't an acceptable option.

Kelsey said...

Helping someone who's made a mistake is a compassionate thing to do *IF* there is no downside. If the cure for lung cancer could only be had by a concoction that included the lung tissue of an endangered species, I think there would be a lot of people saying "You chose to smoke. Save the elephants."
Likewise, "You chose to have sex. Save the babies." But there is no downside to, say, treating a person's STI.

Vita said...

I agree LN, this argument is moving away from what we want to argue with pro-choicers. Clinton's goal here seems to be something different however. He appears to be attempting to create a broader philosophical framework on which pro-life ethics can rest.

Clinton seems to be advocating for an ethical system which establishes the dignity of human beings as being something that is intrinsically present in every human being because we belong to a species of rational animals. This dignity allows every human being to make his/her own decisions AND be responsible for the decisions that they made. So when a couple engages in the act of creating new human life, the mother and father are responsible for that life that they created by their actions.

LN said...

Yeah I agree. And I feel like Clinton on only mentioned the most important aspect (that is, there's a HUGE downside), instead of focusing on it as the primary argument. The way it's treated in this blog post seems like it'd be easy to overlook/dismiss by PCers. Similar to WFL (women deserve better!!!.....oh and human rights..something something..).

LN said...

Yes and again, they might even agree with that statement, but disagree with how *valuable* that life is. They may see a responsible and ethical decision in abortion. So that's where we need to focus our efforts.

Clinton said...

It's not inherently question-begging, though. I have made the case in ample supply on this website that the unborn are valuable human beings. I don't see the necessity in constantly harping on it.

Elissa said...

"so talking about social services and other things would be beyond the scope of this article." --although I can understand how discussing social services may be beyond the scope of the article, I think that is really a factor that we cannot afford to ignore.
If any thing- this is where we need to be "rational." Rationally, it does not make sense to bring more children into the world that won't be appropriately taken care of... we need to address issues of inequity first, then I believe the abortion issue would all but become a non-issue.
Finally, simply making something illegal does not "fix" the problem-- it just drives into a "underworld" and creates even more problems.

LN said...

I disagree that fixing inequality would render abortion obsolete. Many women obtain abortions because they don't want to go through pregnancy at all, or they don't want their offspring in anyone's care but their own and would prefer to kill them rather then gestate and give them away (there is long adoption waiting list for newborns). Plenty of well-off women obtain abortions. Inequality isn't the only problem.

Elissa said...

The majority of abortions are not "well-to-do" women. And that long list of people waiting for babies is ridiculous, because there are around 100,000 children in the US looking for families. If they want a child that badly... they should try opening their hearts to one of the many children in our foster care system. We don't need more babies we need more people willing to care for the people who are already living in this world. We have homeless children (around 1.6 million) all over the USA, we have wars to end, starving refugees that could use some care ... etc etc etc. I'm "too" practical I guess, I'll worry about some possible might be infant sometime after all the other world problems are taken care--

LN said...

Hey I didn't say it makes sense! But it's the truth -- there is a wait for newborns. Any newborn could be placed in a well-to-do home should the mother choose, so income inequality isn't a legitimate excuse in those cases.

And I didn't say the majority were from well-to-do women, just that *some* are. Therefore even if inequality is fixed, we'd still see abortions.

The Nun said...

You are right we needed more people willing to care for the unwanted and I sincerely hope you are one of those. Otherwise bringing it up is just hypocrisy.

The world is not changed by laws and government programs but by individuals willing to give entirely of themselves to others with no guarantee of return.

Anton said...

The best way to punish people for their irresponsibility and immorality is to force them to become parents. Where's the downside?

Elissa said...

That is my hope. I was a 1st grade teacher in a poverty ridden area in rural Florida, which convinced me I needed to do more, so I am currently working on a doctoral program--so that I will be qualified to work on curriculum and instruction. But, once I am done, and financial secure again (3 years or so) my hope was to adopt children out of the foster system. I have heard it is much harder for siblings to be adopted together, so I thought it would be a wonderful if I could help by adopting a sibling pair or group or children.

frankbellamy said...

By the same reasoning, a person who returns an item to the store, perhaps because it was the wrong size, is not taking responsibility for their mistake. To say that a person who tries to correct a past mistake is not being responsible is to start with the a priori assumption that there is something wrong with the way they are trying to correct it, which is precisely the point on which pro-lifers and pro-choicers disagree. The argument is therefor question-begging.

The Nun said...

That is great. I hope very much that you will achieve this dream of adoption and inspire those around you.