I firmly believe that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are the most deserving of our protection. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, 58 million fetuses in America have been killed by abortions. To contextualize the magnitude of this ghastly, staggering figure, consider that Stalin’s purges and gulags killed 20 million, Hitler’s Third Reich killed 20 million and Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed 45 million. Now, consider this: the ability to crush a fetus’s skull is supported by hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government and is currently a constitutional right that cannot be unduly burdened. If that’s not institutionalized genocide comparable in scale to the most inhumane atrocities of the 20th century, I don’t know what is.
Recently, abortion has returned to the forefront of national attention due to the horrifying videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, which depict Planned Parenthood executives cavalierly discussing the sale of fetus hearts, lungs and livers, among other subjects. Yet at Duke, you’d hardly know such a national conversation was happening. In my three years here, the University has hosted a speaker who immigrated illegally and a queer rights activist, only two examples of countless ideologically-driven events. I have yet to see one single event, university or student led, supporting the life of the unborn, even though 55 percent of Americans generally believe abortion should be illegal. In fact, the university has actively silenced those who advocate a pro-life viewpoint. In 2010, the Women’s Center censored a pro-life speaker because of her beliefs. It’s hardly surprising that many students have never encountered an intellectual defense of the pro-life position. As such, I seek to provide a robust argument for protecting the life the unborn, an alien and unwelcome viewpoint on this campus.
The first step in my endeavor is ontologically establishing the moral humanity (not biological) of a zygote from the moment of conception. Some abortionists, like Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), tie humanity and the rights thereof with the act of birth. This position is untenable because it implies that humanity is location dependent — if a fetus is in the womb, it is not a human, but if it is birthed, then it is a human. If so, when the head of the fetus emerges from the mother but the torso still remains inside, is the fetus half-human? Or, if a fetus is completely birthed from the mother and then placed back inside, did the fetus gain humanity and then lose it? Clearly, there is no reason to place moral significance on the physical environment surrounding a fetus.
A more plausible argument is that of Mary Anne Warren who claims that humanity arises from meeting one or more criteria such as communication and responsiveness to pain, and thus a fetus has no rights because he or she doesn’t meet the criteria. But, under Warren’s reasoning, it could be morally permissible to summarily execute a paralyzed Alzheimer’s patient since he or she doesn’t meet the criteria for humanity. To her credit, Warren herself even admits that infants don’t count as humans under her definition so infanticide isn’t the murder of a human being, saying, “if my argument is correct neither (abortion nor infanticide) constitutes the killing of a person.”
The only metaphysically defensible view is that humanity begins at conception. As articulated by Patrick Lee and Robert George, as well as others like Stephen Schwarz and Francis Beckwith, recognition of humanity at conception is the only non-arbitrary solution because conception is the point at which a unique, distinct entity is created who will, left unimpeded, become a full-fledged human. Under this position, an individual sperm or egg is not a human because it has no capacity to grow towards full human maturity. A zygote cannot be ontologically distinct from a full-fledged human being; a zygote is just an earlier stage of human development akin to adolescence being an earlier stage to adulthood.
Having established humanity from conception, the second step is to demonstrate that there are no circumstances in which the unborn may be killed. Judith Jarvis Thomson famously argues that a fetus may be killed even if he or she is considered a human being. For Thomson, a fetus is a parasitic tenant renting a house, with the house being a metaphor for the mother’s body. As such, the landlord (the mother) can end the relationship. Thomson also compares pregnancy to having your kidneys used involuntarily as life support for a stranger, concluding that there is no obligation to provide that support.
John Finnis, FrancisBeckwith, Jeff McMahan and others offer multiple reasons why Thomson is off-base, with the most convincing argument being the letting die vs. killing distinction. The act of aborting a fetus is the direct cause of the fetus’s death whereas when you remove the kidney supports from the stranger, his underlying disease is what kills him.
Lastly, I want to address abortions due to rape and incest even though their incidence rate is one percent. Even if the zygote is unjustly conceived, he or she is still an innocent human being. Killing an innocent human being for no reason other than your own discomfort with their origin would be to use that person as a “mere means to an end,” as Kant would say. In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right. A victim of rape or incest is free to give up her child to adoption, but she cannot morally justify killing the unborn child due to the circumstances of conception.
As a civilized society, we are remarkably barbaric to the unborn, who we dismember and sell. Abortion truly is the great moral crisis of our generation. Thankfully, young Americans are already leading the charge to end abortion and are the most likely out of any age group to oppose all abortions, according to Gallup. I hope our generation will continue the good fight.
Jonathan Zhao is a Trinity senior and the Editorial Page Editor. His column runs on alternate Mondays.
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