A Dialog on Abortion

October 15, 2020 by C. Bryant Glisson

What follows is a brief dialog on the subject of abortion. The dialog assumes two reasonably moral, honest, intelligent, well-intentioned participants, who are interested in truth and willing to be swayed by reason. Whichever side you take, I should hope that you will adopt the same attitude.

Q: This may seem like an odd way to begin, but do you believe that a woman should have the right to kill her 15 year old?
A: Of course not!

Q: What if her child is only a few months old?
A: It would still be wrong.

Q: What about a moment before birth?
A: Yes, because the child is still inside its mother, and the mother has a right to bodily autonomy.

Q: Would you say that the child is a living human being after birth?
A: Of course.

Q: What about the moment just before birth?
A: I can't say.

Q: Say the child has been halfway delivered. Would this make it halfway alive?
A: No, obviously not.

Q: Do you think it's reasonable then to base our idea of life's beginning on a child's position inside or outside of the mother?
A: Probably not.

Q: So if a child is a living human being the moment after birth, do you think it's reasonable to say that it's also a living human being the moment before birth?
A: I suppose so.

Q: In general, would you say it's wrong to kill a living human being?
A: Generally speaking, yes.

Q: Can we agree then that it is wrong to abort a child the moment before birth?
A: I can agree with that, I think, as long as it's not a pregnancy resulting from rape or that threatens the mother's life.

Q: Is a child who is the product of rape less alive than a child who is not?
A: No.

Q: Is the child guilty of its father's sin?
A: No.

Q: Do you believe that it's right to commit an injustice against an innocent person because of an injustice committed by a relation of that person?
A: No.

Q: So does the child deserve to be executed for its father's sin?
A: No.

Q: If a child who comes from rape is no less alive and no more deserving of death than one who is not, is it wrong to kill a child simply because it is the product of rape?
A: I suppose, but if the child's presence is threatening the mother's life, that's definitely a different story.

Q: If the mother of a 15 year old felt that her child were somehow threatening her life, would that give her the right to kill him?
A: Well, yes, if he was attacking her with the intent to do her harm. That's basic self-defense.

Q: Does any child in the womb ever intend to harm its mother?
A: No.

Q: Is a mother who aborts her child because of a threat to her life defending herself?
A: No, not in the sense that she would be if her child was acting with intent. But she is attempting to preserve her life, so maybe in that sense.

Q: If occasion called for it, would it be okay for a mother to forcefully sacrifice her innocent 15 year old to preserve her own life?
A: Of course not.

Q: Is it okay then for a mother to forcefully sacrifice her innocent unborn child to preserve her own life?
A: When you put it like that, maybe not. But none of this matters until the child is a living human being. If it's just a lump of flesh, there's nothing immoral about aborting it.

Q: At what point do you believe that a child becomes a living human being?
A: I guess at this point I would probably say that life begins with brain activity.

Q: Are you certain that life does not begin before this?
A: It seems like a reasonable place for life to start, but I can't say that I'm absolutely certain.

Q: Is it possible then that a child becomes a living human being prior to brain activity?
A: Sure, it's possible.

Q: Is it possible that life begins at conception?
A: It's hard for me to conceive of that, but I suppose it's possible.

Q: Do you know for certain exactly what constitutes life?
A: I can't say that I do. I don't think anyone knows for sure.

Q: Given that you don't know with absolute certainty what life is or when it begins, is it right to abort a child after conception?
A: I really can't say one way or the other. I would need to know those things to be sure.

Q: Do you consider yourself a moral person?
A: I do. I'm not perfect, but I try to live with integrity.

Q: Would you agree that a moral person should try to err on the side of caution in his conduct when doing otherwise might result in another's harm?
A: I would.

Q: So if a moral person knew that there was a chance that he might be shedding innocent blood by a particular act, wouldn't he do everything in his power to refrain from that act?
A: I guess that's reasonable to assume.

Q: As a moral person, who is uncertain of what life is or when it begins, shouldn't you err on the side of preserving life, so as to avoid inadvertently shedding innocent blood?
A: That does seem to follow.

Q: So if we err on the side of caution and assume that a child is a living human being from the point of conception and if we know that this child intends us no harm, on what basis can we, as moral people, justify ending its life?

I leave this for the reader to contemplate.