Monday, September 30, 2019

Baby Chris is 27 Weeks Old

Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development
[This is part 28 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

27 weeks after fertilization (29 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 15 inches long and weighs 2 and a half pounds—about the size of a butternut squash. Baby Chris performs somersaults in the womb.

Baby Chris can still be legally killed. A handful of abortionists, including the notorious Warren Hern and Leroy Carhart, openly advertise elective third-trimester abortions. This is despite the fact that, if born prematurely in the United States, Baby Chris would now have very good odds: 80-90% of babies born at this gestational age survive, and only 10% experience long-term health problems due to prematurity.

To learn more about the journey from conception to birth, download the free See Baby app.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Should We Make Abortion Unthinkable, or Should We Make Children Convenient?

Most people who identify as pro-life are advocates of legal restrictions on abortion. But there are some also who actively oppose abortion, yet do not want it to be outlawed, or at least do not want to make any efforts to outlaw it; their focus is on cultural attitude changes made possible mainly by better support for women, sometimes accompanied by promotion of certain kinds of birth control. Within each of those groups there is another spectrum as well: some oppose capital punishment and most war, and normally support universal healthcare, and call themselves consistently pro-life, while in others, anti-abortion advocacy is accompanied by more conservative political positions. But the distinction I would like to focus on here is that between the “legal” pro-lifers and the “cultural” pro-lifers.

I consider the “legal” pro-lifers and the “cultural” pro-lifers to be all on the same team. And it may even be best that different players on that one team have their different roles. It may be best for there to be both “tough cops” and “soft cops,” working in harmony. I think all the inputs of all the organizations that pursue only one goal or the other, or pursue any balance between the two goals, should be welcome on the team. But what I would like to argue here is that we will never achieve the maximum possible success against abortion without trying hard to enact laws; and that in fact we may never even make much progress on the cultural front until abortion is illegal. I would like to argue against the idea that efforts to create better conditions for women (even if those efforts are combined with the promotion of certain kinds of birth control) are enough, or that even all such efforts combined with moral suasion are enough. (Moral suasion through scientific and philosophical education is part of the toolkit of nearly all pro-lifers.)

Making Abortion Unthinkable, or Making Children Convenient?

Improving conditions for pregnant women, mothers, and children is a moral imperative, and not only because it will decrease the number of abortions. It will not only decrease the number of abortions, it will increase the number of healthy and empowered women and children. So we should pursue that goal for its own sake.

But we should face the fact that improving conditions in that way would do nothing at all to make abortion unthinkable. Nothing. Such progress would cause some women to think less about abortion, but that is not what we mean when we say “unthinkable.” When we say we want to make abortion unthinkable, we are using “unthinkable” to mean “so shocking that it cannot be imagined as possible.”

Suppose for instance that whenever a single woman or a couple decide to give life to and raise their baby, in exchange the government gives them a free car and a nice free apartment. The abortion rate will certainly decline. But suppose that the next year the economy worsens and the government discontinues the program. Couples will go back to baby-killing as usual, because their valuation of the unborn had not changed. They had given life because it was convenient to do so. Their consciousness about unborn life had not changed. Abortion had become situationally unnecessary for a year, but couples had not learned to perceive the unborn (at any stage of development) as full-fledged members of their family, and society had not learned that the unborn (at any stage) are our little sisters and brothers, whose protection is an imperative for us.

Unborn child-protection laws, on the other hand, send a moral message that we are going to stop treating unborn children, in our legal system, as less valuable than born children. They thus humanize the unborn. They don’t leave a hole in our institutions where the humanity of the unborn should be. (Laws can perform these functions adequately by targeting only abortionists and abortion pill vendors, by the way; it should be possible to avoid targeting pregnant women.)

Laws importantly influence culture, just as culture influences laws. If we are not continually and actively demanding legal protections for unborn persons similar to those we would demand for born persons, we will appear to believe that the unborn are not really persons, which will undermine even our efforts at moral suasion.

Rebecca Haschke does pro-life outreach on college campuses. In a Life Report video, she said:
I’ve talked to students on campus, though, when we talk about abortion – their reasoning for why abortion is okay is because the law says it’s okay. And I ask them, “Should the law be what determines what is right and wrong?,” and they'll be like “Well, yeah, it does.” And then I cringe and I say, “Well, have we ever had laws that have been unjust?” And then they go, “Yeah, we have.” [But] the law . . . influences people’s thoughts. 
In 2005, the Los Angeles Times interviewed patients at an abortion center: “She regrets having to pay $750 for the abortion, but Amanda says she does not doubt her decision. ‘It's not like it's illegal. It's not like I'm doing anything wrong,’ she says.”

In a 1996 debate with Naomi Wolf, Helen Alvare said (at 18:13):
The basis for the [pro-life] moral position is that it is the taking of a human life. In other arenas in society where the taking of a human life is concerned, the law also enters. If it doesn’t enter, that is the anomaly, that's the strange thing! So the very basis for the moral position leads. . . . I'm not saying the legal struggle will solve everything. The moral and legal have to go in tandem. 
To fail to advocate unborn child-protection laws is to countenance an anomaly, and thus to say that unborn children are not as good as born children. When the Virginia Supreme Court said in 1858, “in the eyes of the law . . . the slave is not a person,” that august pronouncement must have helped crystallize many people’s perceptions of slaves – certainly at least the perceptions of those who wanted to believe it. The pedagogical effect of law is well-known.

Actions proceed from thoughts, so consciousness is key to any kind of social change; and moreover, I think that the upgrade of consciousness involved in recognizing the unborn as full-fledged members of our human family, crossing that last and hardest frontier of civil rights, will have ramifying effects in upgrading morality in all areas of life. 

Unborn Child-Protection Laws Accomplish the Following:
  1. They are indispensable in making abortion unthinkable, as explained above. 
  2. They are proven to save some lives, right now, that otherwise we would not have saved and could have saved. Even the hard-core abortion advocacy site Rewire.News no longer denies this.
  3. The removal of abortion as an easy option ensures that people will protest strongly for better conditions for women. Why bother to protest strongly, which is a lot of trouble, as long as there is an easy way out, legal abortion? (For more on this, search here for “escape valve.”) 
  4. They prevent some unwanted pregnancies (a win from almost everyone’s point of view) by motivating women to adopt better contraception. Even the Guttmacher Institute agrees with this. 
  5. There will always be some women who simply do not want to be pregnant and cannot be induced, even by offering them the best conditions, to remain pregnant. Laws (the force of law, plus the pedagogical effect of law) are the only way for us to avoid abdicating our responsibility to at least try to protect these particular little citizens. 
Playing It Smart 

The “legal” and the “cultural” players on the pro-life team should at least never undermine each other’s efforts. The “cultural” forces should not publicly accuse the “legal” forces of failing to get at the roots of the abortion problem. (The roots are a mixed reality anyway; as mentioned, the “legal” approach addresses at least one root – perceptions of the unborn – with more institutional commitment than does the “cultural,” and it is only correct perceptions of the unborn that make abortion unthinkable.) And likewise, the “legal” forces should not publicly accuse the “cultural” of caving in and trying to placate liberal society.

[Today's guest post by Acyutananda is part of our paid blogging program.]

Monday, September 23, 2019

Baby Chris is 26 Weeks Old

The above image shows a 26-week-old fetus with an unhappy facial expression.
Perhaps (s)he can taste something bitter in the amniotic fluid?

[This is part 27 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

26 weeks after fertilization (28 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 14 ¾ inches long and weighs 2 ¼ pounds—about the size of a large eggplant.

From studies of premature infants born around 26 weeks, researchers know that Baby Chris has a well-developed sense of smell. This also corresponds with an increased sense of taste; the Endowment for Human Development reports that
[a] sweet substance placed in the amniotic fluid increases the rate of fetal swallowing. In contrast, decreased fetal swallowing follows the introduction of a bitter substance. Altered facial expressions often follow. A pregnant woman’s dietary intake can reach the fetus rather quickly. For instance, amniotic fluid assumes the odor of garlic within 45 minutes of ingestion by pregnant women.
Meanwhile, growing subcutaneous fat starts giving Baby Chris the plump, chubby-cheeked appearance of a typical full-term newborn.

Want more facts about prenatal development? Download the free "See Baby" app for your cell phone.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part Two)

I recently began a series looking at a new article/book released by pro-choice philosophers Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG). You can read the article here. And if you'd like to read the book before you read my responses to it, you can read it for free on-line here.

3. Fetal Consciousness and Facts About Abortions

In this chapter, NG make the case that what matters morally is when the fetus becomes conscious,
aware, able to feel, etc. So they make the claim that when a fetus becomes conscious or aware is the most important information about the development of fetuses. Of course, one wonders why this information is considered more important than when the fetus was conceived, as if the embryo that eventually becomes the conscious/aware fetus was never conceived, the conscious/aware fetus would never come to be. So it seems like this is, at least, information as important as when the fetus becomes conscious/aware.

NG allege that consciousness likely emerges after the first trimester, at the earliest. To support this statement, they allude to information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine at, assuming that if you are interested enough you will go search for the information yourself. This is unfortunate as it does not properly justify their claim. It is up to the one making the claim to adequately justify it, not to the one considering your claim to go out on a scavenger hunt to find your information. But not only is their claim not adequately sourced, a major problem is NG do not actually define what they mean by “consciousness” or “awareness,” nor do they tell us exactly how much is necessary in order for the fetus to matter morally. This is surely an important point, as some philosophers who weigh in on the abortion issue believe that you don't have a sufficient amount until well after birth (e.g. Michael Tooley, Francesca Minerva, Alberto Giubilini, and Peter Singer).

I’m not very interested in debating when, exactly, consciousness, awareness, or feeling develops in fetuses. This is because I reject their personhood framework. So I’m much more interested in refuting their arguments for why they believe consciousness even matters morally in the first place. If their arguments fail, then they have not sufficiently made their case. Needless to say, I think their arguments fail.

The first argument they give is that “concerns about consciousness and feeling in fetuses are most important for them because they are fundamentally what’s most important for us” (italics in original). Consciousness is what enables us to experience good and bad things in life; after all, without a viewpoint, then things can’t get any worse for us.

But this argument is specious. It subtly equivocates on the term “important.” We consider consciousness to be important because we are already having conscious experiences; we would not want to lose our consciousness because of these experiences we can value. But when it comes to fetuses, consciousness does not lack value just because they can’t appreciate these experiences. Consciousness is important for the fetus because without it, the fetus will not be able to properly flourish as a human being. To paraphrase Christopher Kaczor, we don’t find it a tragedy when a rock fails to develop consciousness. This is because rocks are not the kinds of things which are oriented toward being conscious. We do consider it a tragedy when someone is unable to be conscious because humans are the kinds of things which are oriented toward being conscious, so a human needs to have conscious experiences to fully flourish as a human being. NG’s argument doesn’t work because it trades on the second meaning of “important” in the first case (consciousness is important to fetuses because it enables them to flourish as human beings), and the first meaning of “important” in the second case (consciousness is important for us because it enables us to have good and bad experiences).

Second, they ask us to imagine a human who is born unconscious and lived their entire existence in that unconscious state. That human would have no perceptions or awareness, no relationships, knowledge, etc. From this they conclude that this human never actually was — any bad thing that happens to that human’s body never actually happened to them.

But this argument merely begs the question — why assume that because a human was born permanently comatose that the person never actually existed? Why couldn’t their being born comatose be a bad thing that happened to the person? In fact, it seems more reasonable to say that a person has been harmed by being born permanently unconscious. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say that the body has been harmed but no person ever existed there. For whose body has been harmed? The person’s, obviously.

Third, they argue that if you died prematurely in some way, or even just went into a permanent comatose or vegetative state, for any undisclosed amount of time and then died, then either option would be bad for you — either dying or entering a permanent comatose state.

I definitely agree with the authors that either situation is bad and neither situation is desirable. In fact, I might even agree for the sake of argument that neither situation is more preferable than the other. [1] This would simply be because if I am permanently unconscious, it would be like I was dead. I wouldn’t know either way because in both situations, I permanently lose consciousness. However, does that mean I cease to be a person in both situations? Certainly if I die, I would cease to be a person. But would I cease to be a person if I enter a permanent coma? That is much more debatable. If your answer is yes, then there would be no reason to keep me alive at all via life support. But if the answer is no, then one should not be so hasty to pull the plug on me. Doctors are not infallible, and people have been known to come out of comas and even diagnosed persistent vegetative states. So it seems reasonable to keep me alive just in case the doctor’s diagnosis about me was wrong, or I might come out of it sometime in the future because something doctors don’t understand happened to me (after all, the brain is still one of the least understood organs in the human body). So it seems like NG are dedicated to the proposition that one should pull the plug on me so that I don’t take up valuable hospital space or become an unnecessary burden to others rather than keeping me alive since I may actually come out of the coma someday.

Aside from the logical problems with their argument, it is still quite debatable whether brain death counts as actual death, at all. After all, even if a person is brain dead, the person’s body can still be kept alive via life support. As bioethicist Maureen L. Condic has shown, “brain death” was proposed as the criterion of death in 1968 by doctors for the purpose of being able to preserve organs for harvesting and transplantation, a criterion of death widely accepted today (though not universally). But a person’s true death is not when the heart stops beating or when the brain stops functioning, it’s when the person’s cells cease being able to function as a unified whole. So if we are going to take a symmetrical view of human life, rather than arguing from the cessation/beginning of consciousness, we should argue from the cessation/beginning of when the person’s individual cells start being able to function as a unified whole, and this begins at fertilization.

Finally, they argue that rocks and plants aren’t conscious and that’s why they lack rights. The fact that embryos and fetuses completely lack minds, as rocks and plants do, is why they lack rights.

Here, NG simply commit a category error fallacy. Rocks and plants are non-conscious entitites — embryos and fetuses are pre-conscious entities, and this difference matters. Rocks and plants are never conscious (in the way NG want them to be, which is difficult to assess since they never actually define what they mean by consciousness). However, human fetuses and embryos will be conscious — they are on a self-directed path of human development toward being presently conscious. This means that embryos and fetuses do not lack consciousness. In fact, they are conscious entities. They simply lack the necessary organs to be able to immediately exercise their capacity for consciousness. And this matters morally for rights because rights are inherent to us as human beings, and since all of the changes the embryo and fetus undergo are within its internal programming to undergo, none of these changes are substantial changes — in other words, none of these changes change the embryo or fetus from one thing into something else. It remains the same thing throughout all of its changes, a human being.

So as we can see, NG do not adequately make the case for why consciousness matters. In fact, they seem to assume that the person doesn’t even exist unless one is able to immediately exercise their consciousness. But they don’t argue for this, it is merely assumed, making their personhood case as question-begging as several of the arguments they reject. Perhaps they do argue for this elsewhere in their writings, but as it is germane to the case presented here, it should have been included here, as well.

I have argued that their arguments for the moral relevance of consciousness, awareness, etc., have not succeeded. As such, I will not address their points about why and when most abortions occur, as it’s not really relevant to the overall argument.

4. Bad Arguments

In this chapter, NG address several bad arguments. They begin by addressing question-begging arguments and I generally have no issues with this section. I do agree that the pro-life arguments they present beg the question by assuming the immorality of abortion; consequently, they are not arguments that I use.

NG then go on to address common “everyday” arguments, and these bear closer examination. First they address everyday pro-life arguments. Some of the arguments on this list were also on the question-begging list and others I have addressed in my comments above or in the previous part. So I will not address every argument exhaustively here.

Argument: Abortion ends a life. NG’s response here is true, as far as it goes. Many things are alive, like mold, bacteria, and mosquitoes. But these are things people generally don’t have a problem with killing. So not all acts of killing are wrong. But what NG fail to consider is that few pro-life people oppose abortion simply because it’s taking a life.[2] Saying that abortion takes a life is part of a cumulative case for the value of the unborn. It’s not simply that the unborn are alive, but that they are living members of the human species. So to address the argument “abortion ends a life” on its own terms is to misrepresent how the argument is usually understood by pro-life people. Therefore it should not be on the bad arguments list, as it is not usually used in the way NG alleges that it is.

So yes, fetuses are biologically alive, NG agree, but this fact, alone, does not grant value to the fetus. To be fair, though, NG do end the section by conceding that pro-life people might mean something more, like “morally significant life” or “life with rights,” but if that's what pro-life people mean then they should say it since we need to be clear and accurate on this issue. And to this I give wholehearted agreement but pro-life people are not the only ones to fall prey to unclear and/or inaccurate statements. I have engaged many pro-choice college students on college campuses, and even many college students have difficulty articulating why they think abortion is moral or should be legal. Hopefully books like NG’s will help to elevate the conversation.

Argument: Abortion kills innocent beings. NG allege that the word “innocence” cannot apply to the unborn because it is a concept that applies to beings who can do wrong and choose not to. Fetuses are neither innocent nor not innocent. But this is a faulty view of innocent.

Traditionally, children have been seen as innocent because they cannot understand right from wrong. A toddler is innocent of any wrongdoing for this reason, so he is not morally culpable for any acts that he does (such as hitting his sister for no reason). He has to be taught right from wrong. But even the severely mentally handicapped are still seen as innocent of wrongdoing if they do something ordinarily perceived as wrong. In this case, as we’re talking about something that would ordinarily be a breach of a person’s human rights, i.e. to have their life taken without due process, the argument is the unborn are innocent because they haven’t done anything to warrant losing their life. They have not committed a capital crime so they are not deserving of capital punishment for simply existing.

Argument: Abortion hurts women. I generally agree with NG’s rejection of this argument, even if I disagree with their individual claims. It’s true that this is not a good argument against abortion. All surgeries have elements of risk; if there is nothing morally problematic with abortion then women should be allowed to take on that risk. However, their claim that the medical research shows that abortions are generally not medically dangerous is dubious. Again, they provide no evidence for this claim (although they do cite a source for their claim that racial minorities have increased health inequalities, a claim I’m not interested in debating). The evidence usually relied on for this claim comes from the Centers for Disease Control and there are good reasons to doubt the conclusion of their research (see the article linked here). How abortion affects women physically and psychologically are issues that deserve further research and study, from scientists who are objective and not setting out to bias the research.

Argument: The Bible Says Abortion is Wrong. I generally agree with the conclusion here. I reject this argument, generally, because one must first accept God exists and the Bible is God’s divine word in order for this argument to have traction. So it’s not always a bad argument; it could be helpful when discussing abortion with a pro-choice Christian. But when discussing abortion with a pro-choice atheist or person of a different religious faith, I don’t use the Bible.

There are reasons to doubt NG's handling of the Bible passages in their book. However, as this is a secular blog, I won't go into them here.

Argument: Abortion stops a beating heart. This is another argument that really doesn’t belong here. The argument is not simply that stopping a beating heart is wrong (which also means that NG’s responses miss the point of this argument). The argument is that a beating heart is a sign of life, so if you stop a beating heart, it is sure evidence that you are killing the embryo.

Additionally, NG’s claim that embryos don’t have a beating heart is absurd. Yes, critics of recent heartbeat bills have alleged this point but I was surprised that NG would agree with it, considering that earlier they were very much concerned with information about human development. The fact is that no pro-life person says that the heart is fully formed by the 22nd day after conception. The argument is that the heart starts beating at that time. Just as the fetus is not fully formed even after birth, the heart is not fully formed at 22 days, and no pro-life person thinks that it is. But there is a definite heartbeat at that time. Secular Pro-Life has published an excellent article describing this bizarre argument and showing why it doesn’t refute the science involved in fetal heartbeat bills.

NG give one more argument against abortion they view as bad, and I generally agree it’s not a good argument. So I won’t engage it here, nor will I engage the bad common pro-choice arguments they examine since I agree with those, too.

In the next part, I'll finish this series by analyzing their critique of the good pro-life arguments and critique their defenses of the good pro-choice arguments.

[1] I say “for the sake of the argument” because this assumes that there is no life after death which is better than our life here on earth. So for the sake of the argument I’m assuming there’s no afterlife.
[2] Some, like pro-life vegans, would be opposed to killing most life just because they are alive.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Baby Chris is 25 Weeks Old

Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development

[This is part 26 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.] 

25 weeks after fertilization (27 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 14 and a half inches long and weighs 2 pounds—about the size of a head of cauliflower. Baby Chris experiences hiccups, which the mother can sometimes feel.

The lungs have started producing surfactant, an important component in respiration. The Endowment for Human Development notes:
The absence of [surfactant] is often a limiting factor in the viability of premature newborns, as its absence precludes successful breathing. Neonatologists, or doctors specializing in the care of newborns, can introduce a drug form of surfactant to the lungs of premature babies, stretching viability, or the age at which survival outside the womb becomes possible, even farther back in pregnancy. 
Eye development continues this week, with rods detecting low light and cones allowing color vision.

For more on life in the womb, download the free See Baby app.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Workshop on Secular Resources After Abortion

Our friends at Rehumanize International are organizing a conference to take place October 18-20 at Loyola University in New Orleans. Secular Pro-Life is pleased to participate as both sponsor and presenter. In fact, we are on the schedule twice; SPL president Kelsey Hazzard will reprise her "Secular Case Against Abortion" speech, and will also moderate a workshop entitled "In Search of Secular Abortion Recovery Resources."

We need your help to make the workshop successful! Most abortion healing resources currently available are explicitly Christian. The exceptions, such as the wonderful Abortion Changes You (who will have a representative in attendance at the workshop), are smaller and do not offer more costly programs like retreats. The reasons for this are numerous. A slim majority of abortions (54%) are obtained by self-identified Christian women. Church-based projects have a built-in source of financial support. And the doctrines of Christianity—promises of forgiveness and eternal reunification with the aborted child—are a strong source of comfort for many.

That said, 38% of women having abortions are religiously unaffiliated, and 8% belong to a religion other than Christianity. Conversion should not be a prerequisite to their healing. To that end, what can we do in our communities to make abortion recovery more accessible without regard to religion? That is the topic for discussion. 

If you (1) are not religious, (2) regret your abortion, and (3) are able to get off work and join us in New Orleans on Saturday, October 19, please contact us! Unfortunately, item (3) has been an issue for many of the people we have asked. We want to make sure your voices are heard and your experiences are centered. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Baby Chris is 24 Weeks Old

Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development

[This is part 25 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

24 weeks after fertilization (26 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 14 inches long and weighs 1 and 3/4 pounds.

The major milestone this week is that Baby Chris has developed the ability to hear. Outside sounds are of course muffled, but Baby Chris can easily listen to sounds from within the mother's body, such as her speech and heartbeat. This is why newborns express a preference for their mother's voice over other people's voices.

Remember when Baby Chris's eyelids fused together back in week 9? They have finally un-fused, allowing Baby Chris to open his or her eyes. This also enables the "blink-startle response," as described by the Endowment for Human Development:
By 24 weeks, the eyelids reopen and the fetus exhibits a blink-startle response. This reaction to sudden, loud noises typically develops earlier in the female fetus. This response is very much like what adults and children exhibit in the same situation.

When exposed to a loud noise, the fetal heart rate increases, as does the rate of movement. Excessive fetal swallowing following exposure to loud noise may lead to a loss of amniotic fluid. Possible long-term consequences for fetuses are the same as consequences for children and adults: hearing loss and deafness.
The fetus also responds to pressure, movement, pain, hot and cold, taste, and light.
For more on Baby Chris's journey from conception to birth, download the free See Baby app!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part One)

Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob recently published a book called Thinking Critically About Abortion: Why Most Abortions Aren’t Wrong & Why All Abortions Should Be Legal. The book was designed to teach people on both sides of the aisle, pro-life and pro-choice, how to have better conversations on the topic by pointing out bad arguments, showing why they are bad, and then showing better arguments that should be focused on. The authors then expounded what they believe to be better arguments against abortion and argued against them, then used arguments for abortion and used them to show why they believe most abortions are not wrong and why all of them should be legal. In this article series, I intend to show 1) that the authors’ arguments fail to show why most abortions aren’t wrong and they all should be legal, 2) they fail to interact with some of the best arguments against abortion, and 3) even in the arguments they do give, they present strawman versions of some of the pro-life arguments they examine, and even then they don’t succeed in refuting any of the arguments. Nobis and Grob's book has been made available to read for free on-line here.

Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG) have done a service to the abortion debate. I consider any book or article which seeks to advance the discussion on abortion to do a service, but specifically books that help teach critical thinking skills are greatly needed. As such, I commend NG’s desire to want to help people think critically on the issue so we stop hearing the bad arguments and focus primarily on the good ones. Their book is relatively short (being based on an article they wrote together), so it could easily be read in one afternoon.

I want to start out by showing my appreciation to NG for helping elevate the conversation above simple slogans and talking points. It’s an enterprise I wholeheartedly endorse and engage in, myself. However, aside from wanting to elevate the conversation on abortion, NG also attempt to show why most abortions are not wrong and why all abortions should be legal. Their book really starts to come apart here because they don’t provide compelling arguments for their conclusion and they attack a strawman of some pro-life arguments while not looking at some of the strongest pro-life arguments. I am going to attempt to support these claims by going through their book as briefly as I can.

1. Preface

In the preface of NG’s book, they claim their support for abortion rests on less-controversial claims: “adults, children and babies are wrong to kill and wrong to kill, fundamentally, because they, we, are conscious, aware and have feelings.” But this is a seriously controversial claim. Of course, the claim that adults and children are wrong to kill is pretty uncontroversial, but to claim it’s because they are conscious, aware, and have feelings is very controversial. Pro-life people ground a person’s right to life in their biological humanity, personhood, and/or underlying rational nature, and pro-life people are not a small subset of humanity. And considering that many philosophers view infanticide as morally permissible, their claim that babies are wrong to kill may also not be as uncontroversial as they think it is (although it should be).

NG go on to claim that even if fetuses have a right to life, it does not entail they have a right to someone else’s body. In most cases I would probably agree with that. However, I would argue that there are mitigating factors in pregnancy that do grant the fetus the right to use the woman’s body. So I would define “right to life” as a negative right not to be unjustly killed. Abortion would be an unjust killing of the fetus. Unfortunately NG rely on their own understanding of “right to life” in the debate rather than relying on how pro-life people commonly define that term.

2. Introduction and Defining “Abortion”

NG start off the book proper by trying to find some criterion by which we might want to make an act illegal. They claim that it’s not easy to do, but I would disagree with that claim. I think it is easy to do. If we understand that the role of government is to protect the natural rights of its citizens, then that gives us a pretty clear baseline to begin. Now obviously, not every single act may be cut and dry. It obviously takes some philosophical reflection to determine what our natural rights are and what sorts of acts violate those rights. But this makes the question of abortion an easy one, at least as to the legality of abortion. Does abortion violate the natural rights of the unborn? If the answer is yes, then abortion, like murder, ought to be illegal. If the answer is no, then abortion ought to be legal since preventing it would plausibly violate the natural rights of the woman who wishes to procure it. While NG didn’t come to a clear conclusion on the role of government, they are arguing that abortion should be legal because it is not immoral, and the government does not make moral acts illegal (or at least it does not make illegal acts which are not seriously or extremely immoral). That would be a miscarriage of justice.

So I disagree with their conception of government, and I'm also not convinced by their claim that it is a miscarriage of justice to make acts which are generally moral illegal. For example, Thailand and India recently made commercial surrogacy illegal because too many children were conceived and then abandoned by their biological parents. Now I would argue that commercial surrogacy is highly immoral, but even if you think it to be a moral practice, I don't see how anyone could think Thailand or India to be wrong to outlaw it to protect children from being abandoned. But let's just say NG are correct about this. I’ll accept those terms for the sake of examining their arguments.

NG continue on by wanting to define the term “abortion.” I agree that it’s always a good thing to start off by defining our terms. They present three definitions:

  1. An abortion is the murder of an unborn baby or child.
  2. An abortion is the intentional termination of a fetus to end a pregnancy.
  3. An abortion is the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.

They reject the first two definitions and accept the third as the best.

Definition 1. They reject definition one on the grounds that it is basically question-begging; murder is obviously wrong, so if abortion is murder then it is also obviously wrong. But whether or not abortion is an act of murder is what is up for debate, so calling it murder without arguing for it begs the question at issue. I agree with their assessment here, and so I, too, would reject this first definition as problematic.

However, their discussion about whether or not fetuses count as “babies” or “children” is also problematic, and results in their first real egregious error in the book. They have three basic arguments against fetuses being babies: 1) The beginnings of something are usually not that thing (they use the examples of a pile of lumber and supplies not being a house and fabric, buttons, and thread not being a shirt); 2) If you do a Google image search for “babies” and “children”, and then “fetal development” and “embryonic development”, you’ll see that babies don’t come up for the latter two searches. So clearly they are not the same thing; and 3) If someone says they want a baby, they aren’t saying they want a month-old fetus. All three of these arguments have major problems.

Regarding the “beginnings” argument, it’s true that lumber and the house it builds are not the same thing and that thread and the shirt are not the same things. But here NG are confusing the concepts of active with passive potential. It’s true that the lumber is not the same thing as the house, but this is because that lumber could become anything. It could become a desk or a bookshelf instead of a house. And even if it becomes a house, there is nothing intrinsic in the lumber that causes the lumber to become a house. It requires an outside builder. Living things are not like artifacts. While artifacts (e.g. the house and the shirt) must be acted upon from the outside to become what it will become, living things don’t. A living thing is what it is from the beginning. So a human being is a human being at all stages of its development.

Despite what NG allege, “child” and “baby” are not stages of development. Even if we consider “babies” or “children” to simply be young humans, these encompass several stages of development. Not just the embryo and fetus stage, but also the infant, toddler, adolescent, and teenage (or “young adult”) stages of development. So arguing that things are not what they are from the beginning, aside from being mistaken in the case of living things, is also irrelevant to whether or not fetuses count as children. “Baby” and “child” are emotional terms. An adult is still a baby or child to his parents. When someone refers to a baby or a child, they are simply referring to one’s offspring, and a human fetus is certainly the offspring of the mother and father who contributed genetic material to the embryo that becomes the fetus.

Regarding the “images” argument, no, a two-year-old toddler will not appear at the top of a fetal development chart. In fact, this argument begs the question by assuming that fetuses and embryos are not children (if they are, then babies and children do, in fact, appear at the top of the chart). What NG seems to mean is that infants and toddlers don’t appear at the top of the chart, but why would they? These are later stages in development than the embryo and fetus stages.

Regarding the “I want a baby” argument, this is, in fact, what they are saying. If a woman tells her husband “I want a baby,” unless the couple knows they are infertile, she is not saying “let’s go to the adoption center and adopt a child.” She is telling her husband “I want you to get me pregnant.” So no, she is not saying “I want a month-old fetus” any more than she is saying “I want a two-year-old toddler,” since toddlers eventually grow out of the toddler stage and get older.

So to sum up, I do agree with NG about rejecting this definition of abortion because it relies on emotional appeals, even though I think their view about what “babies” and “children” are is mistaken.

Definition 2. NG reject definition two because of the word “termination”. The word “termination” is not informative so does not work well as a definition of abortion. There is also an issue with calling abortions necessarily “intentional,” but I’ll touch on that more in my examination of the third definition. To their credit, NG reject this definition because the word “termination” simply means to “end it in some way,” which is technically correct as abortion does end the development of the fetus. But it obscures the fact that something is killed in an abortion, which is why there is an ethical debate over it. Not all acts of killing are wrong, so we need to have a discussion over whether or not abortion is an act of wrongful killing or permissible killing. So the definition doesn’t work because “termination” is too vague a term. I agree with their rejection of this definition, also.

Definition 3. The third definition is the one NG likes best because, they say, it is “accurate, informative, and morally-neutral.” I agree that it is informative and morally-neutral, but I take issue with it being called accurate.

To the medical community abortions are not necessarily intentional. That’s why they call miscarriages “spontaneous abortions.” A woman who miscarries obviously did not intend to lose the life of her fetus but nevertheless it prematurely ended. This is why I tend to make distinctions between spontaneous abortions, elective abortions, and therapeutic abortions. I think this is a more specific and accurate way to understand abortions, at least if we’re going to keep in line with the medical community’s understanding of abortion. Now granted, NG did state as a caveat that “spontaneous abortions” are not intentional actions that can be judged morally; they just happen. And this is true, so NG are using “intentional” to indicate that these are abortions specifically caused by the woman and her abortion provider, not accidental cases of embryo or fetus loss. But again, even if this is their intention, it is still not accurate because if miscarriages are a type of abortion (as the medical community considers them), then their definition excludes miscarriages from the set of abortions, which is inaccurate. Plus, as some pro-life people have argued, life-saving abortions are not really abortions at all; they are life-saving medical procedures. This is because they also view abortions as intentional acts (and think the medical community is wrong for considering miscarriages a type of abortion, even spontaneous ones), and since in life-saving abortions the intention is to save the mother’s life, not to kill the embryo or fetus, these life-saving procedures are not actually abortions because the intention is not to kill the fetus to end the pregnancy, it’s to save the mother’s life. However, NG earlier stated that pro-life people even think abortions can be justified sometimes to save the woman’s life if her life is threatened. NG would have to agree that there is no inconsistency here if they insist on using this definition, as life-saving abortions would not count as abortions under their definition, since life-saving abortions are not “the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.” The intention is not to kill the fetus to end the pregnancy; it’s to remove the fetus to save the mother’s life, such as using salpingectomy to resolve an ectopic pregnancy, which avoids directly killing the embryo, although the embryo’s death is an unfortunate foreseen consequence of the procedure.

This is why I tend to define abortion as “premature termination of a pregnancy with the result of the fetus’ death.” I think this is a more accurate and informative definition than even NG give, since it covers all the bases. I also think this is what most people tend to have in mind when they actually talk about abortions, even if they’re not quite sure how to articulate it. And this way, if we have a distinction between spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), therapeutic abortion (to save the mother’s life), and elective abortion (a procedure that is not medically indicated to save her life), only elective abortions would be morally problematic. A woman obviously should not be held responsible for a miscarriage beyond her control, nor should a woman be held responsible for a life-saving abortion if her life is in immediate jeopardy. But if her life is not immediately threatened, then having an abortion for any other reason makes her culpable for the act, even if not as culpable as the abortion practitioner who performs the abortion.

In the next part of this series, I'll respond to NG's chapter on fetal consciousness and facts of fetal development, and their chapter on bad arguments, if it doesn't make the article too lengthy.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Baby Chris is 23 Weeks Old

[This is part 24 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

23 weeks after fertilization (25 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 13 and a half inches long and weighs a pound and a half—roughly the size of a rutabega.

Illustration via
At this stage, respiratory system development is crucial. Baby Chris practices breathing by drawing amniotic fluid into the lungs. According to the Endowment for Human Development:
The fetal respiratory rate can rise as high as 44 inhale/exhale cycles per minute at 22 to 26 weeks. This rate changes according to maternal carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, strongly suggesting that the respiratory center in the brainstem of the fetus already detects and responds to changes in CO2 levels in the blood. This respiratory response to CO2 levels is similar to that seen in newborns and adults.
For more fetal development facts, download the free "See Baby" app on your smartphone.