Anti-Abortion Arguments: What Are Some Anti-Abortion Arguments?


Francis J. Beckwith

Article ID:



Jul 31, 2022


Mar 26, 2009

Anti-Abortion Arguments- THE GRADUALIST THESIS

Those who defend the gradualist thesis, such as Daniel Callahan and Robert Wennberg,29 argue that the unborn entity increases in value as it develops physically. Unlike the theories critiqued above, in this view there is no one decisive moment at which the unborn entity moves from nonperson to person. For example, the one-celled zygote has less value than the three-month fetus while the three-month fetus has a lesser right-to-life than the eight-month fetus. There have been a number of critiques of this position which space does not permit me to articulate here.30 However, our critique of the major decisive-moment theories in Parts Three and Four of this series is sufficient to refute gradualism. That is to say, since none of the decisive moments we have already gone over can be shown to eradicate the full humanness of the unborn entity at any stage of her development, it follows that there are no philosophical, scientific, or moral grounds by which to say that the unborn gradually becomes fully human. For she would still need to achieve full humanness at some decisive moment. That is, someone who is fully human cannot gradually become more fully human. Certainly it is true that the unborn human physically develops gradually, as is true of humans at later stages (e.g., infancy, childhood, adolescence). But it does not follow from this fact that the unborn human is any less human than the infant, the child, or the adolescent. They are nonetheless fully human although they are gradually developing.

Anti-Abortion Arguments- COMMON QUESTIONS

In my critique of the decisive moment theories, I dealt with a number of objections to the pro-life position. However, there are other common objections which should be answered. In this final section, I will briefly respond to five common questions asked about the pro-life position. 1. Why don’t sperm and ova have a right to life since they are also genetically human? Sperm and ova do not have a right to life because they are not individual genetic human beings, but are merely parts of individual genetic human beings. They are only genetically human insofar as they share the genetic codes of their owners, but this is also true of their owners’ other parts (e.g., hands, feet, kidneys, etc.). Sperm and ova cease to exist at conception when the zygote, an individual genetic human being, comes into existence. 2. Doesn’t this view “absolutize” biological human life? Not at all. Although the pro-life advocate believes that biological human life is important, he or she certainly does not believe that it is absolute. For biological human life without the natural inherent capacity to function as a person is probably not fully human. And it is questionable whether the taking of such a life or the permitting of such a life to die can be classified as homicide. For example, I do not think it is homicide to pull the plug on a respirator that is biologically sustaining a brain-dead patient. Such a patient’s natural capacity for personal acts is simply not present. Of course, other questions surrounding the problem of the withdrawal of certain forms of health care are much more complex and fall outside the scope of this series.31 In any event, the pro-life advocate does not absolutize biological human life and is willing to apply his principles critically and to think reflectively in morally challenging situations. 3. Aren’t you absolutizing the unborn’s right to life? No, for there could be times at which abortion is justified. The pro-lifer is fully cognizant of the fact that we live in a world in which moral conflicts can occur. Take, for example, the case in which it is highly likely that a woman’s pregnancy will result in her death, as with a tubal pregnancy. Because it is a greater good that one human should live rather than two die, the pro-lifer believes that in this case abortion is justified, since otherwise both unborn and mother would die. However, as I argued elsewhere in this series, abortion is not justified by appeals to reasons such as financial burden or the child’s potential handicap, because if the unborn entity is fully human, one must respect her life as one respects the lives of those who are already born. 4. Wouldn’t your position mean that some forms of artificial birth control result in homicide? Yes. For example, forms of birth control that result in the death of the conceptus, such as the IUD and the “morning-after” pill (RU-486), would logically entail homicide if the pro-life position is correct. However, not every form of birth control results in the death of the conceptus. For example, the condom, diaphragm, some forms of the Pill, spermicides, and sterilization would not logically entail homicide if the pro-life position is correct, for they merely prevent conception. This is why the pro-life advocate makes a distinction between contraception and birth control. Contraception literally means “to prevent conception.” Therefore, all contraception is a form of birth control, since it prevents birth. But not all forms of birth control are contraceptive, since some forms — such as the ones cited above — prevent birth by killing the conceptus after conception. Hence, the pro-life advocate as such finds no problem with contraception as a form of family planning. 5. Isn’t it true that some zygotes do not have forty-six chromosomes? Yes. Although the normal number of chromosomes is 46, some people are born with less (e.g., people with Turner’s syndrome have 45) and some people are born with more (e.g., people with Down’s syndrome have 47). But don’t forget that my case for the unborn’s humanness does not rest necessarily on the number of chromosomes an individual may have, but on the fact that the entity in question has a human genetic structure. Consequently, a human genetic structure can still subsist in an abnormal number of chromosomes (genes are contained in the chromosomes within the nuclei of a person’s cells). That is to say, the Down’s or Turner’s syndrome child with human genes and an abnormal number of chromosomes is no more nonhuman than a child with an abnormal number of more obvious parts. For example, a person born with six fingers is human, as is a person born with one arm or one leg.

Anti-Abortion Arguments- SUMMING IT UP

In this four-part series I critiqued four basic types of arguments that have been put forth in defense of both liberal and moderate positions on abortion rights: (1) arguments from pity (Parts One and Two); (2) arguments from tolerance (Part Two); (3) ad hominem arguments (Part Two); and (4) arguments from decisive moments (Parts Three and Four). In the process of critiquing these arguments I gave a defense of the pro-life position that full humanness begins at conception (Parts Three and Four), which included a detailed presentation of fetal development (Part Three). Despite the number of arguments covered in this series, some readers will be disappointed that I did not deal with some theological arguments32 or lesser known philosophical arguments.33 But since even a four-part series has its limitations and since Justice Harry Blackmun (who wrote the majority decision in Roe v. Wade [1973]) has argued that the morality of abortion is completely contingent on the full humanness of the unborn,34 what has been covered in this series is more than sufficient. For this series has clearly established the following conclusions: (1) the popular arguments for abortion rights either beg the question as to the full humanness of the unborn or ignore the question altogether; and (2) both sound philosophical and scientific reasoning clearly establish the full humanness of the unborn from the moment of conception.


1 Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical View (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1975). 2 Ibid., 102. 3 Andrew Varga, The Main Issues in Bioethics, 2d ed. (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 61-62. 4 Ibid., 62. 5 Brody, 113-14. 6 A. Chadwick Ray, “Humanity, Personhood, and Abortion,” International Philosophical Quarterly 25 (1985):238. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Varga, 62-63. 10 Ibid., 63. 11 Jane English, “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” in Biomedical Ethics, ed. Thomas A. Mappes and Jane S. Zembatty (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), 430. 12 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) in United States Law Week 57 (July 1989):5040. 13 For a defense of this view, see Richard Werner, “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn,” Social Policy and Practice 3 (1974):201-22. 14 See Joel Feinberg, “Grounds For Coercion,” in Ethical Theory and Social Issues, ed. David Theo Goldberg (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1989), 307-15. 15 Ray, 240. 16 Peter Kreeft, “Human Personhood Begins at Conception,” in Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine 4 (Winter 1990):11. 17 Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983). 18 Mary Anne warren, “On the Moral and Legal status of Abortion,” in Biomedical Ethics, 417-23. 19 James Rachels, The End of Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). For a critical analysis of this book, see J. P. Moreland’s review in The Thomist 53 (Oct. 1989):714-22. 20 Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, “Reproducive Choice: Basic to Justice for Women,” Christian Scholar’s Review 17 (March 1988):286-93. 21 See Tooley. 22 Mollenkott, 291. 23 Tooley, 167. In rebuttal, see David Clark, “An Evaluation of the Quality of Life Argument for Infanticide,” Simon Greenleaf Law Review 5 (1985-86):104-8; and Richard A. McCormick, S.J., How Brave a New World? Dilemmas in Bioethics (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1981), 157-59. 24 English, 429. 25 Ibid., 430. 26 Some philosophers, such as Tooley (Abortion & Infanticide), “bite the bullet” and say that infanticide is not a form of murder since the newborn is not a person. 27 John Jefferson Davis, Abortion and the Christian (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984), 57. 28 Ray, 240-41. 29 Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1970); and Robert Wennberg, Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy (Grand Rapids, MI: Williams B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985). 30 Philip Devine, The Ethics of Homicide (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979); Robert E. Joyce, “Personhood and the Conception Event,” The New Scholasticism 52 (Winter 1978):104-9; J. P. Moreland and Norman L. Geisler, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time (Westport, CT: Praeger Books, 1990), 31-34. 31 See Moreland and Geisler, The Life and Death Debate; and Francis J. Beckwith and Norman L. Geisler, Matters of Life and Death: Calm Answers to Tough Questions about Abortion and Euthanasia (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), part 2. 32 See my “A Critical Appraisal of the Theological Arguments for Abortion Rights,” Bibliotheca Sacra (July/September 1991). 33 Judith Jarvis Thomson, for example, argues that abortion is morally justified even if the unborn are fully human. I critique this argument in “Personal Bodily Rights, Abortion, and Unplugging the Violinist: A Critical Analysis,” International Philosophical Quarterly (March 1992) (forthcoming). 34 Justice Harry Blackmun, in “The 1973 Supreme Court Decisions on State Abortion Laws: Excerpts from Opinion in Roe v. Wade,” in The Problem of Abortion, 2d ed., ed. Joel Feinberg (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1984), 195.

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