The mere fact that some definition is a social construct doesn’t mean no one can be right about it…
(Continued from Part 1.)
The problem, as you said, is deciding who is a living human being. You denied that an unborn should be protected as someone alive, and one ground you pointed out was that there is no agreement on the subject or, for that matter, on what exactly constitutes life. I don’t think this is a valid argument, for the mere fact that people can’t agree on the right answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one. If a group of 2nd graders can’t agree on what is 20 x 20, does it mean it can be anything, and not just 400? If a group of people can’t decide if someone from a religious minority is human and shouldn’t be killed, does it mean that any of them can treat that person any way he wants, since there isn’t any agreement on whether he’s human anyway[xi]? A lot of people used to think that women were only half-human, that the moon was filled with trees, and that disasters are caused by goddesses spinning threads, but this doesn’t mean that there are no right answers, since women really are fully human, the moon is barren, and there are no goddesses spinning threads except in poetry (I think).
In your letter, you also mentioned that, before the end of the direct physical dependency between mother and child, no one can be sure if life is already there, or as you asked: “who’s to say?” Please note that direct physical dependence is your standard, and not mine, nor of the group of people who call themselves pro-life, so, on your own premise of “choice”, you can’t impose that standard on us, and you can’t stop us if we choose to stop abortions and lobby for laws against it. Besides, your choice of standard is arbitrary, since anyone could choose any kind of physical change and say that “before that, we can’t be sure if the being is alive.” There are also the moment of fertilization, when the child is made who is genetically different from those of the mother and father; the moment when an unborn first has brain-waves; the moment of quickening[xii] or of viability[xiii]; the beginning of adolescence; and the first sexual act (if any). Why not choose these instead of “direct physical dependency”?
You also said that life “is a tricky thing, often defined only by our culture and personal opinion… Can anyone be right where the definition is a social construct?” Again, I don’t think that’s valid: The mere fact that some definition is a social construct, or is affected by our culture and opinion, doesn’t mean no one can be right about it. You mentioned a woman’s right to choose, and your opinion that reproductive freedom “is vital to the liberation of women”, but aren’t these social constructs as well? If you look around you, you would see this tree in the garden, this man Mike, this woman Solita, and you would hear this song by the Beatles, but there is no “right” or “choice” anywhere, nor a “liberation” you can see, nor anything that is “the woman.”
For that matter, there is no “freedom” either. All of these are social constructs; but does it mean that you can’t be right at all when you defend them? Does it mean that if someone says “the woman” has no “rights”, he can’t be wrong, since these words and concepts are social constructs anyway? If you say yes, then what can you say to the billion-dollar company that treats its employees like cattle, since “human” and “being” are social constructs anyway? For that matter, an individual’s free choice is also subjective, and it is a merely individual construct that also can’t bind us, so, on your premises, why should we live and let live?
Therefore, a “construct”, whether social or individual, can be right or wrong. The only question is what the basis for this judgment would be. Would it be your opinion, my opinion, or the opinion of the majority in society? Would it be a minority, like lawyers sitting in the Supreme Court, or those ever-honest people we elect to Congress? Their opinions would be subjective, and if they’re subjective, then they would be social constructs, which brings us back to the square one.
So let’s go back to what we all have in common, the world in which we live, the “objective” that corresponds to you call “subjective”. In that world, there is a sun and moon and stars; we are conceived and we die; there are, in short, “objective conditions” that are not merely social constructs but are the basis for our constructs; and if they are still constructs, they are universal in character, since everyone in the world experiences them.
In that common or “objective” reality, what differentiates the living from the non-living is the capacity for internal chemical processes regulated by, among others, their genetic code [xiv]; and what distinguishes the individuals we call “human” is their having a common kind of genetic code sequence[xv], which is the basis for phenotypical traits–that is, what characteristics appear. Hence, the DNA of human beings is different in kind from those of plants, though it is closer to those of chimpanzees; and the DNA of a human embryo after fertilization is genotypically human in kind, and different from the DNA of his/her mother[xvi]. Doesn’t this mean, then, that the human embryo is a human being who cannot be treated as though he/she were just another part of the mother’s body? Also, the process of development from embryo to old age is biochemically and structurally continuous and contains no sudden breaks[xvii]. Hence, it is the same being, human and unique, who is in the womb, who becomes a teenager, and who starts to feel arthritis; and if we give her as adult the protection of not being killed, then why shouldn’t we give the same protection to her as unborn, when the adult and unborn are one person?
Even if we assume that the humanity and life of the unborn is still uncertain, it is a different matter entirely to say that the unborn can therefore be killed. Killing is final; it is the total destruction of possibilities, of choice, of someone unique and irreplaceable; it is irrevocable; and, considering the importance of the value involved, it should not be undertaken unless we are certain that no human being would be killed[xviii].
Put another way, if I weren’t sure if a building has a child in it, does it mean I can blow it up? And if I do, and I discover there was a child inside, can I bring her back to life? Uncertainty is a poor excuse for killing someone. Besides, these “theoretical rights” are not merely theoretical, nor possessed by a mere “cluster of cells”, for, as found by the eminent pro-choice thinker Daniel Callahan, “the genetic evidence… appear to rule out a treatment of zygotes, much less the more developed stages of the conceptus, as mere pieces of ‘tissue’, of no human significance or value. The ‘tissue’ theory… can only be made plausible by a systematic disregard of the biological evidence.”[xix]
Hence, there are many physical and scientifically verifiable facts that prove the humanity of the unborn and militate against killing him/her-the humanity of his DNA; her uniqueness relative to everyone else, including the mother, “a uniqueness of a different kind from that of the uniqueness of a sperm or ova”[xx]; the continuity of human development from conception to age; even the natural impulse, shared by most societies, to care for the unborn and for pregnant women-and that show at least the probability that the unborn is human. Should we ignore these physical evidences, and insist nonetheless on the right to choose, which is a mere social construct, when it actually means the right to kill?
That summarizes the reasons why we are pro-life, which reasons, you will note, are by no means dependent on any “religious text” you might object to. However, since we are Christians, our beliefs give us additional reasons to condemn abortion and work against the license to commit abortion: the fact that every human being is made in the image of God[xxi], with a life given by the Almighty as a sharing in God’s own life[xxii]; the fact that he/she is not merely an earthly person but a being called to an everlasting destiny, and who was so loved by God that God the Son became man and died so that he/she may have this destiny[xxiii]; the fact that God considers even the unborn to be human beings deserving of recognition and love; and the fact that God therefore forbade killing of human beings other than in strictly defined exceptions that do not include killing the unborn.
I know you don’t believe these things, but you, too, must respect our right to believe them and our reasons for applying them to “modern” questions–for if there is, indeed, an eternal God, then God cannot be limited to the “ancient” or the “modern”, and what the Almighty reveals cannot become invalid because of the passing of time; and if our destiny is eternal rather than merely earthly, then what God says about that destiny matters wherever and whenever we may live.
I hope that sufficiently explains the pro-life position, and why we condemn abortion and oppose laws and decisions that allow it. Thank you for reading and maybe considering them, and, always, God bless you.
[xii] See Justice Harry Blackmun, Roe v. Wade, lead op. in Thomas Mappes and David DeGrazia. Biomedical Ethics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 481.
[xiii] See Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, et al., Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in Thomas Mappes and David DeGrazia. Biomedical Ethics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 484.
[xiv] David Baltimore, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. (New York: Scientific American, 1995), p. 9-10; Frank Brescia, et al. Fundamentals of Chemistry. (New York: Academic Press, 1983), p. 644-648
[xv] Hence the Human Genome Project, in David Baltimore, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. (New York: Scientific American, 1995), p. 12.
[xvi] See Daniel Callahan, “Abortion Decisions: Personal Morality”, in Thomas Mappes and David DeGrazia. Biomedical Ethics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 476, 477; Declaration on Procured Abortion, no. 13.
[xvii] See the alternative formulation in Daniel Callahan, “Abortion Decisions: Personal Morality”, in Thomas Mappes and David DeGrazia. Biomedical Ethics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 476.
[xix] Daniel Callahan, “Abortion Decisions: Personal Morality”, in Thomas Mappes and David DeGrazia. Biomedical Ethics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 476. This quotation is believed to constitute fair use, being insubstantial in amount of material quoted and used for non-profit, educational use.
[xx] Daniel Callahan, “Abortion Decisions: Personal Morality”, in Thomas Mappes and David DeGrazia. Biomedical Ethics (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), p. 476.
(ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. The 2 parts of “Why abortion is wrong” were previously posted together as “Letter to a Pro-Choice Activist” on our apologetics blog Exultate! Apologies to all, since I don’t yet have time to write an actually new post.)