Lesson 3: A Critique of the Pro-Life Argument (Part1)

A Pro-Choice woman’s claim, “My body, my decision,” is hardly a complete ethical argument. Like many moral decisions we make in real life, it maintains that there is nothing better. In that sense, it is a rejection of the Pro-Life propositions. That means we should examine closely what those are. The most cogent presentation I have read was a Lutheran Forum article, “On Abortion: Sorting Out the Questions,” by Robert Jenson many years ago.

I think Pro-Choice people have to respond to the way Jenson answered what he regarded as the four primary questions. The first was, “Is the fetus an entity deserving the protection that the law gives human persons?” He argued since we cannot discern when life begins, we have to assume the fetus is such a person. There is no point when we are justified in regarding the fetus as a nonperson or potential person. I prefer simply using the term” human being” that carries the dignity and worth without the baggage that comes with “person,” at least in his usage

His second question was, “ Is the abortion of such a child ever permissible?” Notice that the person is now a child. Jenson acknowledges civilized societies allow for the killing of a person in very restricted circumstances, such as allowing the police and military to use deadly force. He does not believe that abortion is murder and decides it is best defined as an execution. Again, he has greatly limited possible discussion when doing this. I think the modern technological society demands finding a new category.

The third question that follows the first two is “Who shall decide whether to abort a fetus whose abortion someone desires?” Jenson argues justice demands that decisions be made by a disinterested agency of the state. The absolute last to judge would be the parents, the doctor, or the clinic. He has made the decision part of the community’s justice system but assigns it to a nonexistent agency.

The final question was, “ By what standards shall the agency decide?” As I read it, his argument precludes any criteria. He argues you can never weigh one person more than other and rejects considerations such as the child will not be loved or is handicapped. Convenience or pity cannot play a part. His last statement was, “Only God can make such evaluations, and if there is no God, nobody can.” It seems to me he has effectively dismissed any grounds and, quite frankly, also dismisses accepting the responsibility for addressing a real-life problem in our society.

I believe we must treat the fetus as a living human being. Anyone who has watched their unborn grandchild with all the family characteristics push back against an ultrasound device knows how precious she or he is. However, whenever I hear the natural law argument, I feel I am listening to an abstract ethical dissertation rather than a response to a real-life human problem. Kant, rather than Jesus, is setting the tone.

It seems to me in the end, Jenson refuses to work through the problem because that would be playing god. He fails to appreciate how, like it or not, we play god all the time in our modern technological society.

Let me continue this next week. I especially want to refute the contention that we must never weigh one person against another. Again, we all do it all the time.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    Within the Jenson article (section III), he writes, “It is an old theological puzzler: When does God add the soul to the body? The Lutherans have heretofore unanimously answered: Never…they have taught that the soul – personhood – is not the kind of thing that can be added to the organism…” I find this leads me to the existential question, “What is a soul? What is its purpose? Does everyone have one or is it imputed upon baptism?” He makes the assumption (as did the American Lutheran Church in 1980), that life begins at conception and that the zygote is in possession of a soul. I am not convinced this is true. What do you think?

  2. Paul Wildman says:

    Very well put Fritz thank you – yes there are actual moral dilemmas as you point out.

    Again you make a valid point re involvement of the state. My state though is corrupt, craven and fascistic as we can see in the decaying US state. This makes it all the more important for you/us to ask these questions as the church decayed decades before the State. So where is the/your/our moral anchor?

    Can you/we in this moral mathematics avoid how we obsess about the unborn and let the born die in the millions? What moral calculus is evident here? We/the US readily kills thousands of children in countries the US doesnt like, pregnant women, farmers for what end? 20yrs later its back to the future and the Taliban are back in charge.

    What right wing perversion of humanity can ignore the second and salivate over the former i.e. the unborn?

    Sadly I can’t see how one can bypass my second paragraph Fritz, in seeking to answer the first.

    Ciao paul


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