Abortion 101 – Laying a Pro-Life Foundation

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Yesterday, January 22nd, was the anniversary of the famous Roe v. Wade decision made by the US Supreme Court in 1973, which was effectively a federally signed permission slip for women to get abortions. But many people, including myself, do not agree that the issue of abortion is settled by court fiat because… well, the court was wrong.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 9.52.54 PMAbortion is an issue fraught with emotionally and rhetorically powerful arguments, so we have to make sure that we handle this issue with care. However, we are discussing an issue of great importance; if the pro-lifers (those against abortion) are correct, then we have been allowing the systematic destruction of the most helpless member of society for the last 42+ years. And if the pro-choicers (those in favor of abortion choice) are correct, then pro-lifers are looking to take away a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Most of the ‘street-level’ arguments for and against abortion are a combination of assuming what they’re trying to prove (begging the question), personal attacks, accusatory motivational assumptions, straw men, loaded questions, and any number of other logically fallacious ways of thinking. How often have you heard a discussion on abortion where the pro-lifer is accusing the pro-choicer of hating babies and wanting to use abortion as birth control? …and in response, the pro-choicer accuses the pro-lifer of misogyny and being against women’s rights?
In fact, if you’re trying to hone your skills in logical fallacy identification, watch a popular level debate (on Fox News or CNN or something, those are almost always hilariously bad) and count the number of fallacies used by both people. That’s some hardcore on-the-job training, so be warned.

When we are approaching the issue of abortion, we have to ask two vitally important questions – one scientific and one philosophical.
What is the unborn? This is a scientific question.
What gives us value? This is a philosophical question.

Due to the fact that this is an introductory post, I don’t plan on addressing all of the possible objections to the pro-life position or arguments for abortion. What I plan on doing here is laying a foundation for pro-life thinking; a foundation that can be applied when discussing the issue with those who disagree.

Before we dive into the philosophical side of this question, let me just address the scientific question right away. The unborn is human. There is absolutely no way for you to deny this and maintain even a modicum of intellectual respectability. Rarely do I make such authoritative statements, but in this case… it is warranted. When a sperm cell and an egg cell combine together, it creates a separate organism of the same species. If you think that the combination of a human sperm and a human egg makes something other than a human zygote, I don’t know what to tell you. Perhaps you should read up on some basic biology a little more?

The full humanity of the unborn has been known for quite some time, yet one of the arguments used in pro-choice circles is that we don’t know if the unborn is human. For example, Alan Guttmacher wrote a book called “Life in the Making” (published in 1933) and on page 1 he says this:

“We of today know that man is born of sexual union; that he starts life as an embryo within the body of the female; and that the embryo is formed from the fusion of two single cells, the ovum and the sperm. This all seems so simple and evident to us that it is difficult to picture a time when it was not part of the common knowledge.”

So we’ve known this for at least 82 years, but lets pretend that we don’t know and run with it.
Wouldn’t it be safer to assume that the unborn is human and respond by giving the benefit of the doubt to life? More on this later.

If you need to be reminded how babies are made, watch this video from TED.com.

(skip to 2 minutes if you want to get right to the animation)

Oftentimes, you will hear a [misinformed] pro-choice advocate say, ‘the unborn isn’t human!’ with all sorts of moral indignation. When they say this, they probably don’t mean that the unborn isn’t a human organism. What they probably mean by this is that the unborn human being is not a ‘person’; a being that has inherent moral value.

The question of ‘personhood’ is the question of philosophy mentioned above.
What gives us value?

It seems to me that the most straight-forward and consistent way of answering the question ‘what gives us value?’ is to say that all human beings have value in virtue of the kind of thing they are, not in virtue of a function they perform. This is not to say that non-human organisms are not valuable, but that is a different discussion.

But why does just being human make a being valuable? Great question.
It is because defining human value in terms of anything other than humanity would be to exclude a group of people who clearly have inherent value.

In his book “The Case for Life“, Scott Klusendorf came up with an acronym that describes the situation we encounter when talking about the moral worth of the unborn. The acronym he uses is S.L.E.D.
I thought about adapting Scott’s work into my own acronym or something, but there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, right? I have encountered these arguments in discussions with people myself, so I can attest to SLED’s validity. The purpose of SLED is to show that the 4 main differences between the unborn and the born (size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency) do not disqualify the unborn from personhood.

S: Size
The pro-choicer will often point to how small the unborn is in an an attempt to show that it is ok to abort. But in what other situation do we justify the killing of a human being based on size?
On that line of thinking, you are justified in killing anyone smaller than you.
But be careful, I’m 6ft 1in, 230lbs. There is a good chance that I am bigger than you.

L: Level of Development
The pro-choicer will often point to how developed the unborn is and say that because the unborn has not yet developed X or Y, we are justified in killing them. But in what other situation do we justify the killing of another human being because they are not developed enough? As shown in the video above, development is a continuous process. At what point in the continuum do we point to something and declare that we can abort today, but not tomorrow? At best, this would result in an arbitrary, subjective understanding of human value based on function.
On that line of reasoning, you would be justified in killing anyone less developed than you.

E: Environment
The pro-choicer will often point to the location of the unborn as a reason to justify killing her. But in what other situation do we justify killing a human being because of where she is? A change in location doesn’t change your worth as a human being.

D: Degree of Dependency
The pro-choicer will often point to the unborn child’s dependence on her mother as a justification for ending her life. But in what other situation do we justify killing someone based on their dependence on another human being? Children are dependent on their parents for food, clothing and shelter but that is not an adequate justification for killing them.



My favorite objection to the reasoning behind S.L.E.D. is that while it would be unjustified to take the life of a human being based on any single one of those, it is justified to take the life of a human being when all are taken into account. They are agreeing with the logic behind SLED and making a special case for the unborn. This is a logical fallacy known as special pleading.

That being said, there are times when abortion is justifiable, if not essential.
For example, when the unborn child implants into the fallopian tube, this is called an ectopic pregnancy. If this were to happen and we do nothing, neither the baby or the mother would survive. If we abort the child, it will result in a dead child and an alive mother, and 1 death is better than 2.

Some questions and objections are easy to answer, but much more difficult to apply to real situations.
What if the woman was raped?
What if it was a mistake?
What if birth control failed?
If we are totally lacking in the empathy department, these questions are easily answered. Rape, mistakes and the failure of birth control result in a valuable human being that is valuable because of what it is, not based on anything else. However, this does not help the woman in the situation. What she needs is help, not an argument. I’m not trying to be unreasonably dogmatic in these situations… I hope you can see that.

womens-rights-buttons-2Thought experiments are a common tactic used in ethical discussions like abortion, and for good reason. These thought experiments allow us to step outside of the situation and think about more ‘meta’ issues surrounding the situation. We have to be careful with these though, because the thought experiments may not be analogous in the morally relevant ways.

While I think there are good reasons to think that all humans are persons, there may be some people who are still unconvinced, for whatever reason. Perhaps they think we can never know if the unborn is really a ‘person’. To those people, I would ask them to consider what J. W. Wartick calls The Epistemic Argument Against Abortion.
If you are unsure of whether or not the unborn child is a person, why would you default to allowing it to be killed? The most reasonable and appropriately cautious thing that we can do is default to the pro-life stance until further information is given. After all, we don’t want to be complicit in the active destruction of valuable human lives, simply because we are agnostic on the personhood question, right?

As I said earlier, this post was not designed to present a full pro-life case. It was meant to provide an introduction to the topic from a pro-life perspective. There are many more arguments for and against abortion that did not address, but I will undoubtedly be doing that in future posts.
Thus concludes my introductory post on abortion; I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions or whatever, feel free to leave a comment below or find me on twitter!

——————- EDIT – 2/18/2015 —————————-

Scott Klusendorf was not the originator of the SLED argument. It was Stephen Schwartz, in his book The Moral Question of Abortion. Thanks to Clinton Wilcox for pointing this out.

I’d also like to thank everyone in the comments section for bringing up good points. I do plan on responding to them, likely in a blog post dedicated to the particular points (responding in a comment just doesn’t seem good enough).


13 thoughts on “Abortion 101 – Laying a Pro-Life Foundation

    Oscar Rivera said:
    January 23, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    It is because defining human value in terms of anything other than humanity would be to exclude a group of people who clearly have inherent value.

    The presupposition here being that humans have inherent value, a line of reasoning which was not explicated in your post, I don’t believe.


      ElijiahT responded:
      January 23, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      Hey Oscar, thanks for the comment.
      We recognize that humans share some form of moral worth and that trying to exclude someone from this would need proper justification.

      We recognize that a 10 year old girl and a 40 year old man both have value and we should not kill them without proper justification. The SLED example presented here was meant to show that the right to life continues to the unborn.

      Are you saying that no humans may not have inherent moral worth?


        Oscar Rivera said:
        January 23, 2015 at 5:30 pm

        Are you saying that no humans may not have inherent moral worth?

        I didn’t say that, only that it was an assumption made in the post that was not justified. But I’ll say it now – the proposition that there is inherent moral value is, I think, a dubious one.


        ElijiahT responded:
        January 23, 2015 at 5:45 pm

        I’ll grant that I didn’t go super deep into the justification of basic human rights in my post… but that’s largely because I didn’t think it was necessary.

        I don’t really see how ‘don’t kill innocent people’ is a dubious claim. Did you have something that I could read to look more into why it isn’t justified?


    skepticalstingray said:
    January 24, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Hi Elijiah,

    I enjoyed reading this, and I think you raise some interesting points. Some thoughts:

    1) You say that “all human beings have value in virtue of the kind of thing they are, not in virtue of a function they perform.” I’m not clear on what you mean by this, because as far as I can see, *what kind of thing you are* depends entirely on what kinds of functional capabilities you have. It seems to me that an organism that can feel pleasure and pain, have conscious experiences, think and deliberate is a different kind of thing than an organism that can’t *precisely because* of the differences in their functional capabilities. Apologies if I’ve misunderstood you on this.

    You also say “It is because defining human value in terms of anything other than humanity would be to exclude a group of people who clearly have inherent value.” I’m worried that this might border on question-begging, because you seem to be basing value on species membership, which is precisely the position a lot of pro-choice people would challenge. *Why* does belonging to the species homo sapiens give one an intrinsic, special value? You say that you agree non-human animals have value, so what are you basing their value on, and why not judge the value of a human individual on the same criteria? I think you have to justify why mere species membership adds something special here.

    2) I agree that drawing lines based on functional development is a very tricky/messy affair, but I disagree that it leads to a completely arbitrary system of justifying whether someone has value or not. Aren’t there clear and morally relevant differences between an organism that has conscious experiences, sensations, current desires and background desires, and one that doesn’t, regardless of the species of the organism? Surely we can draw relevant distinctions based on this? The moral difference between a vegetable and a puppy seems more clear to me than the moral claim that any human has intrinsic value simply in virtue of their being human.

    3) You’re right that parents aren’t justified in killing their children simply because children are dependent on parents. But what matters here is that by adopting a child or taking one home from the clinic after the pregnancy, one explicitly or tacitly (depending on the case) consents to being responsible for looking after the well-being of that child. This is why parents aren’t justified in knowingly harming their children. For your argument to work here, you’ll have to establish that consenting to sex is equivalent to consent to carrying a pregnancy to term. Now, perhaps that can be established, but you’ll need an independent argument to defend that.

    Finally, some meta points:

    1) I agree that abortion is a morally complex issue, but I don’t think that thinking in terms of women’s rights and the moral status of the fetus is the best way to think about this. Since you’re a fan of virtue ethics, I highly recommend reading Rosalind Hursthouse’s paper, Virtue Theory and Abortion, if you haven’t already come across it. I’m pretty sure it will change the way you think about the issue.

    2) Even if we agree that the fetus is a person and the persons have a right to life, is that enough? As David Boonin has argued, the right to life doesn’t necessarily mean the right to be kept alive by someone else’s body. Issues of bodily autonomy become highly relevant here, and I hope you’ll tackle those in future posts. I think of this as a legal issue rather than a moral one. So even if I think some cases of abortion are cruel and condemnable, I’d still defend a woman’s legal right to choose the abortion.

    Sorry this got so long!!


    Jerome Danner said:
    January 24, 2015 at 6:00 am

    I enjoyed this post. I might share this with my Sunday School class. This post really helped with the arguments for prolife and hopefully I will grow in my understanding.


    Skepticism First said:
    January 24, 2015 at 11:13 am


    Obviously, there’s tons I could say about this issue. But in the interest of brevity, I’ll focus on SLED. First, I agree that “size” isn’t relevant to the discussion. If I was only an inch tall, I’d retain all the rights I currently have. But I think Klusendorf goes astray with the other three differences.

    Level of Development is kind of a misnomer; it’s less about development per se and more about current features. Consider a bacterium, for example. Clearly, a bacterium has none of the rights that we do. But this isn’t because it’s less “developed”, since that implies some sort of process whereby it’ll become more “developed”. The reason a bacterium has no rights is because it’s not a person. And how do we tell whether or not it’s a person? We don’t look at what stage of development it’s in, we look at what sort of features it has, *right now*. Consider a hypothetical “rapid evolution” machine that could take a bacterium and turn it into a full-fledged human. If we had such a machine, would it be immoral to destroy a bacterium before we put it into the machine? I think not. Likewise, if a fetus doesn’t have the features that make for personhood, I think it’s not immoral to destroy it even though it eventually will have those features.

    Moving on, environment matters as well, at least sometimes. Continuing with the fun sci-fi thought experiments, imagine that you and I are in a room that’s rigged such that the presence of life will trigger a nuclear explosion in New York City in 30 seconds. We can prevent this by exiting the room – but I’m passed out, and I’m heavy enough that you can’t drag me out in time. You, however, have a gun. Unless you’re a deontologist, you’d probably be justified in shooting me in the head. The thing that would make this justified is precisely us being located in this room. Of course, there’s some pretty big differences between pregnancy and the nuclear room. But what this shows is that we can’t just talk about location in general; we have to examine the implications of the specific location where pregnancy takes place, and that leads into…

    Degree of dependency. This is actually almost the same thing as environment and level of development, since the degree of dependency of a fetus on the mother is a direct consequence of (1) the fetus being located inside the mother’s uterus, and (2) having features such that it’ll die if it’s located elsewhere. Note also that talk about “dependency” in general isn’t very useful; there are many different kinds of dependency. I could be dependent on you for all kinds of things, and the level of dependency can vary greatly, as could the consequences of that dependency on you. For example, I could be financially dependent on you for some cheap medication that keeps me alive, or I could be financially dependent on you for some very expensive medication that keeps me alive. If my medication costs you pennies, you may be obligated to pay for it; but if it costs you tens of thousands, you may not.

    The thing about pregnancy is this: a fetus is *bodily* dependent on the mother; in terms of rights, that’s one of the weightiest burdens there is (see, for example, Thompson’s famous violinist). Unqualified talk of dependency tends to downplay the importance of this. In fact, this may surprise you, but if we had a medical procedure such that we could extract a living fetus and keep it alive in an artificial womb, I too would take a pro-life stance, at least in cases where the brain was already somewhat developed. But as things stand now, the imposition on bodily autonomy is just too high a cost.

    Well…so much for brevity. 😛


    […] every other week, this is along the same thematic line as my previous post on abortion; Abortion 101 – Laying a Pro-Life Foundation. If you have any podcast that you think is great, I’d love to check it out! Leave a comment […]


    […] For a more robust case against abortion, ElijiahT – Laying a ProLife Foundation. […]


    Organs, Tissues, & Planned Parenthood « ElijiahT said:
    July 22, 2015 at 3:18 am

    […] I’d also like to make an important suggestion. Before we say “I disagree”, we should seek to understand what is really happening. Once we understand it, we can point out the problems with it. There’s no need for us to fabricate evil… if the evil truly is there. For those unaware of my stance on abortion, I am pro-life. I wrote about it here. […]


    tony5516 said:
    April 8, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Reblogged this on My Bible Study.


    […] Source: Abortion 101 – Laying a Pro-Life Foundation […]


    […] Abortion101: Laying a Pro-Life Foundation – ElijiahT.wordpress.com […]


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