Abort Abortion: Ethical Schizophrenia
In March 2014, a minor uproar ensued when news reports revealed that aborted and miscarried babies were “incinerated as clinical waste and even used to heat some hospitals in the United Kingdom…” It is difficult to determine exactly where every person who expressed outrage on blogs, in online forums, and in letters to the editor stands on the issue of abortion. Some wrote responses along the lines of: “While I’m in favor of legalized abortion, the treatment of these remains by the hospital was disrespectful.” Some, who were clearly against abortion itself, wrote responses that verged on expressing more outrage about the way these human bodies were treated after death than the way they were treated that caused their death.
In any case, the reaction to the news report is indicative of the ethical schizophrenia that is prevalent whenever the status of a human fetus is in question. For many years, those of our neighbors who oppose the rights of human beings in the earliest stages of their development have had a tendency to defend the legalization of abortion by de-personalizing such human beings. They have often referred to the fetus as a “lump of tissue,” no different than an appendix or other parts of the human body removed in routine surgeries every day. They suggested that the fetus does not become human until it passes through the birth canal, an event that, if the rhetoric were to be believed, magically transforms it from a non-human being into a human being.
I do not know how many of those who made such claims actually believed them and how many merely resorted to de-humanizing those in the earliest stages of human development as a way to soothe their consciences. However, if a human embryo or fetus truly is nothing more than a lump of tissue, then the outcry against their incineration by those who claim that is asinine. Incineration is how hospitals dispose of other pieces of human tissue removed from surgical patients. Why should one piece of human tissue be treated any different from another piece of human tissue?
This ethical schizophrenia is even more evident in the fetal homicide laws that exist in the majority of states in the U.S. These laws provide criminal penalties for those who kill an unborn child in the womb. A person who kills an unborn child in utero can be convicted of murder in many states—unless, that is, the person who kills the unborn child is an abortionist. Let’s think about the absurdity of this for a moment.
If you or I kill an unborn child, the law in many states treats the unborn child as a human being deserving of protection under the law. When an abortionist, on the other hand, kills an unborn child, the law treats the unborn child as something other than a human being deserving of protection under the law. In other words, the status of the unborn child under the law is entirely subjective. Whether the unborn child is a human being deserving of protection under the law depends on the career choice of the one who terminates the unborn child’s life.
The mother’s choice also plays an important role in determining what the unborn child is. If a man shoots a woman who is entering an abortionist’s office to have her unborn child killed, and the shooter kills the baby before the woman makes it into the office, the shooter can, in many states, be convicted of murder. If the same woman makes it into the office and has a different man (an abortionist) kill her unborn child, the law will not prosecute that man. As far as the law is concerned, the ontological status of the unborn child (what it is) changes depending on the decision of the mother and the career of the killer. In one instance, the unborn child is a human being deserving of legal protection. In another instance, the unborn child is not a human being deserving of legal protection.
The self-contradictory laws tell us that any given unborn child, can be a human being deserving of legal protection or a non-human being, undeserving of legal protection, depending on another human being’s decision. In other words, if a woman chooses to abort her child, the very nature and being of that child changes. This is philosophical, logical, ethical, and legal idiocy.
Because many of those who support abortion think more clearly when discussing animal abuse laws, let us imagine pro-abortion reasoning applied to such laws. In such a scenario, if I am given a horse and choose to keep the horse, then it is a horse, and to abuse it would result in criminal penalties. On the other hand, if I decide I don’t want the horse, then I can choose to kill the horse, and my very choice to do so means that the horse is not an animal deserving of protection. Applying pro-abortion ‘logic’ to this scenario means that if I don’t want the horse, then the horse isn’t really a horse. It’s no longer an animal if I choose to be rid of it. And since animal protection laws are designed to protect only animals, my horse has no protection against my brutality. Since it isn’t an animal, it has no right to be protected against animal abuse, and I can take it down to the local, euphemistically named, “Animal Health Clinic” and have it dismembered alive. My barn, my choice.
Will we ever see abortion supporters clamoring to have their legal philosophy applied to animal abuse laws? Probably not. They know, as we all know, that an animal is an animal independent of our choice. But it is also true that an unborn child is a human being independent of anyone’s choice. One’s choice is not determinative in either case. The unborn child either is a human being or it isn’t. If it isn’t a human being, there is no need for it to be treated as such by those who deal with medical waste, and there is no need for it to be treated as such by fetal homicide laws. If it is a human being, it must be consistently treated like a human being deserving of full (not selective) protection under the law.
So, is the unborn child a human being? Is it merely human tissue like the fat removed in a liposuction procedure? Or does the mere lump of tissue become a human being at some point in its development? Some would have the public believe that we really don’t know. Such a claim, however, is demonstrably false. Even worse, it was known to be false in 1973 at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision. Peruse any contemporary medical school embryology textbook. They say the same thing. When the male gametocyte (sperm cell) unites with (or fertilizes) the female gametocyte (oocyte or egg cell) to form a zygote, a new, genetically distinct individual human being is formed. It is that point at which human development begins. This is not a matter of opinion. It is an objectively verifiable fact.
- Abort Abortion: Ethical Schizophrenia
- Abort Abortion: The Bottom of the Slippery Slope
Dr. Keith Mathison is professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.