An Apologetic For Life
I just got off of the radio where I was once more the guest on Relevant Radio’s “Searching the Word” program. This is their “apologetics & catechesis” program, and on it we discussed the nature of apologetics as simply illustrating the reasonableness of our faith.
“Reasonable” is a big word with me these days. When something is reasonable, it simply means that it makes sense. We can understand it to be true using our reason, our human intellect. The Catholic faith (and indeed, religion in general) gets a bad rap these days with atheists and secularists claiming that to have faith you must “leave your brain at the door” and allow your beliefs to be dictated to you by other people.
Far from it, I say! To really engage in the Catholic faith, one must use their mental faculties. We believe our intellect to be God-given, after all. Our reason is the mechanism God gave us by which we deduce the truth. Our faith demands that we use our reason.
But I see some people these days advocating for some very unreasonable things in the name of reason and logic.
With the recent presidential election behind us, I’ve been seing a lot of things posted around Facebook dealing with abortion and the respect for human life. A lot of the students involved in WCU’s Catholic Campus Ministry have made pro-life statements on their pages. It is interesting to see some of the reactions of their friends and fellow college students.
To give an example, one commentor made the statement that it is sensible and logical to understand that a fetus in the first trimester is super far from being a being. They don’t have a heart or brain yet, they’re like an ant. You squish ants all the time.”
Well, let’s just use a bit of reason to parse through that statement. To say that something or someone is a “being” is simply to say that that this has existence. It is. To say something is not a being means that it does not have existence. So to suggest that a fetus in the first trimester does not have existence is absurd. I know a lot of pregnant women that would beg to differ!
Of course, what this young writer probably meant to say is that the fetus in the first trimester is not a “human being.” It exists, sure enough, but not as a human. The question then becomes, what is it? If it is not a human, it must be something else? Is it a different kind of animal? Is it a plant? A mineral? Biologically, what exactly is the fetus? Scientists (using that God-given reason) understand the fetus to be a developing human being. It is human alright, just a human in an early stage of development, just like a five-year old child is not as fully developed as the thirty-year old man. Both are still humans; as is the fetus in the womb.
What of the assertion that the fetus has no heart or brain? Is this true? Well, let’s use our reason and look to what modern science has been able to tell us. The brain actually begins to develop around the twentieth day of pregnancy, and the heart starts to beat around day 21. This is less than a third of the way through the mother’s first trimester, and well before most women even realize they are pregnant. Doctors can actually detect active brain waves from about day 40. So to say that abortion is permissible because a fetus has no heart or brain means that abortion should be illegal after the first three weeks of pregnancy. And, as an aside, “fetus” is the word generally used to describe the developing child after about the eighth week of pregnancy, when everything is present that would be found in a fully developed adult. It comes from the Latin word for “offspring.” So it really doesn’t make any sense at all to speak of a “fetus” with no heart or brain. At those early stages, the developing person is called an “embryo.”
In any case, whatever the unborn child is called, how would lack of a brain or heart make the embryo like an ant? Last time I checked, ants have brains and hearts. We squash ants not because they lack certain organs but because — well, because they are ants. We don’t kill human beings, again not because they possess certain organs, but because they are human beings. Killing another innocent human being is called murder. And, in case anyone needs reminding, murder is wrong.
This same student also comments that, “If anything it’s bad for the kid to have him when you can’t take care of him, and it could also royally ruin your life. I say abort, if you’re responsible.” Ah, here is the argument that abortion is the responsible thing to do if you really care about your child. If you don’t have the time, or the money, or the inclination to raise a child, it’s far better for him or her to be killed than to have to live in a less-than-perfect family. If you truly believe this, then God hep you, because there are not very many perfect families out there. As a young father, I tell other young couples that if you wait until you feel you are “ready” to start a family, you may never start one. Rarely do people feel they are “ready” on all fronts — monetarily, emotionally, what have you — to bring a child into this world. But people do it very day. Our species have been doing it for millennia. And we manage to get by just fine, thank you.
But to suggest that it’s better for the child that he be killed is the height of arrogance! How dare we presume to be able to dictate the fate of an unborn child! The fact of the matter is we have no idea who that child will grow up to be. Some of our best minds, our noblest leaders, or most brilliant artists, statesmen and scientists have come from very humble and disadvantaged backgrounds. And what if the child doesn’t grow up to achieve greatness, but grows up to work as a grocery clerk, or a civil servant, or pizza delivery boy? Does that mean he shouldn’t have been allowed to live? How dare we make that judgment? For there is only one thing we can know for certain about that child’s future — if we kill him, he won’t have one.
And the idea of advocating abortion as the “responsible” option is, to speak plainly, repugnant. It calls to mind the famous quote from Blessed Theresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Theresa), “It is a trajedy to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you please.” And that is what this argument really boils down to.
I saw a comment made by a different student that was along the same lines as the “abortion as the responsible choice” argument. This student wrote, “The resources of the world are stretched far enough without encouraging every person who puts two cells together in their uterus to call it a person and give it a name and put another human being on the already overpopulated planet.”
Well, what does reason tell us about this line of thinking? First of all, a person is not a person because we decide to call it such. We could call a rock a “person” and give it a name and it is still a rock. And a person is still a person even when not acknowledged as such by society. In early nineteenth century America we had a whole class of people that society didn’t consider persons. But society was wrong, and we came to understand that slavery was a gross injustice. In the early twentieth century, the Nazis in Germany decided a whole class of people were not real persons and could therefore be summarily rounded up and killed. The resources of the world were stretched far enough — why share them with inferior Jews?
The same bad logic used to justify slavery and the holocaust is today being used to justify the holocaust of the unborn in America; a holocaust that to date has cost over 50,000,000 lives and counting.
And what about our world’s limited resources? Since the days of Malthus people have been arguing that our growing population would soon outstrip the world’s capacity to feed us. However, while the world’s population has increased from 1.6 billion to 6.2 billion over the past hundred years, the world’s gross domestic product has actually increased twenty to fourty times, leading to much higher standards of living. Food production is not really the problem. People starve not because there is not enough food, but because they do not have access to food. It’s a problem of distribution, not production. But despite the data, people continue to use the “population bomb” mantra as an excuse to advocate for the genocide of the unborn.
In the end, we can boil this issue down to one central issue: is the embryo or fetus in the womb a person, or is it something else? For if it is a person, then it is entitled to human rights, including the right to life. If it is not a person, then one may legitimately make arguments that it can be killed, the way we euthanize a pet.
In my experience, arguments for the non-personhood of the unborn always fall short. For example, the first comment I quoted mentioned lack of a functioning brain. Well, if this is our defining factor, what do you do with a brain-dead adult. Can you morally kill him? The abortion supported may very well say, “Yes.” But the follow up question must be, if doctors told you that the brain-dead adult would regain all brain function in a matter of weeks, would it still be permissible to kill that person, simply because they are temporarily incapacitated? I have a hard time imagining our young student saying “yes” to that question.
But if we apply that logic to the unborn, we can see how wrong abortion truly is. Because even during that short time before the fetal brain is fully developed, there is potential. If we simply wait a short while, the brain is there, fully functional. It will be the same brain the child uses to learn about the world, to recognize his mother and father, to learn to walk, to talk, to play, to sing and dance. The only thing we need to do is to allow nature to take its course and allow that child to live and develop.
If you style yourself as “pro-choice,” remember the choice that you are advocating. It is a decision that leaves the child in the womb with no choice, no voice; it leave him or her with no life. Is that choice really ours to make?