My Least Favorite Pro-Life Argument

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Abby Johnson is a great model of how the pro-life movement should be. Three things I love about her are her telling pro-lifers to not mislead people with bad information, her passion for helping people, especially women who are victims of the abortion industry, and her willingness to call out pro-lifers who misrepresent the pro-life movement.

Though my level of influence is not even close to comparable to that of Abby, I hope that in my pro-life efforts, I can reflect what she models. Because of this, I want to talk about a particular pro-life argument that is worrisome. I recognize that I am only one person and may not have the right perspective; therefore, I welcome conversation on this topic. However, I think this is a discussion we need to have, so I’m going to start it here.

I think one of the most unsettling forms of rhetoric is saying we shouldn’t kill a fetus because they might contribute something to society. For example, someone might argue that we shouldn’t abort a fetus because they might have been the one to cure cancer. Personally, I think this needs to stop.

One of the most unsettling forms of rhetoric is saying we shouldn’t kill a fetus because they might contribute something to society. Click To Tweet

When people make arguments that talk about value based on career or the generations that would come from them or their financial contributions to social security (yes, unfortunately, I have seen that argument used), it rejects the innate value of human life. It promotes the idea that our value comes from what we might do rather than who we are. As pro-lifers, we shouldn’t just want to stop abortion; we should want to promote a culture of life. To do that, we need to get people to recognize the inherent value of human life.

As pro-lifers, we shouldn’t just want to stop abortion; we should want to promote a culture of life. Click To Tweet

My life is no more important than a person who is disabled and cannot work. A doctor’s life is no more valuable than mine because they’re saving lives, and I’m just an engineer. Can we argue that they contribute more to society than I? Absolutely! I will gladly say that a doctor does more for the physical needs of society than I do. However, that doesn’t mean that it is “better” to kill me than it is to kill that doctor.

Our worth has nothing to do with what we contribute. Our worth comes entirely from the fact that we were made in the image and likeness of God. This identity, this fundamental piece of who we are, is the only reason we should need to fight to stop abortion. Secular pro-lifers may use different language, but it comes down to the same basic principle: every human life has value.

Our worth has nothing to do with what we contribute. Our worth comes entirely from the fact that we were made in the image and likeness of God. Click To Tweet

All those things being said, I also recognize that we are up against a culture that doesn’t value all human life. The language used about fetuses actively dehumanizes them. Speaking about potential contributions, especially as they impact the greater good of the world, seems to add value. I don’t like that this is what we need to do to change people’s minds, but if rhetoric like this is truthful and causes people to second-guess abortion, I suppose it has its place. I think the best example of this is Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s conversation with Hillary Clinton.

Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her guest over their lunch at the White House.

The little woman sitting at table with Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate in her reply.

“Because she has probably been aborted,” said Mother Teresa.

What do you think? Should we try to move away from this rhetoric and focus on leading people to recognize the dignity of every human life aside from the contributions or should we meet the discussion where people are at and talk about potential value in regards to abilities? How should we go about doing this?

Comments 12

  • Wow. This is profound. I had never thought about it like that before (and I have definitely used that argument before) but you really made me think about this! Thank you for starting this dialogue. Human life is so important no matter its God-given purpose. That quote from Mother Teresa is one of my favorites!

  • Wow – I loved reading your thoughts. I agree – we shouldn’t stop abortion because of baby will/can become, but because of who that child is NOW, in utero, a human being with an unrepeatable soul. Great post, thanks Kate!

    • I love that phrase: “a human being with an unrepeatable soul.” That sums up our human dignity so perfectly in so few words. Thanks for sharing.

  • “We shouldn’t want to stop abortion. We should want to promote a culture of life.” Yes! Thank you, you put that so perfectly. It’s not just about stopping evil. It’s about changing our hearts. I like to think my children are pro-life. They know nothing about abortion. But they DO know that all life is sacred. They were excited about our new baby from the moment they knew of its existence. They love babies, and they know that all people are special. Culture of life goes WAY beyond stopping abortion.

    • I completely agree. I think because abortion is such a prominent evil, we forget that it is just one component of a culture of life. What you’re teaching your kids – that every human life is sacred – is so critical to changing hearts (or maintaining that beautiful childhood innocence).

  • Yes! And this is especially true because one of the big reasons why so many late-term abortions happen is because of some sort of disability. In this case, many people use this argument to argue FOR abortions, because how could these children grow up to do productive work, especially if the fetuses seem to be highly disabled? Never mind the fact that most of these people would NEVER advocate for disabled people to be killed! It is their human dignity, not their potential productivity, which should cause us to be pro-life.

  • What do I think? That we are being overly analytical and simplistic.

    We are considering each individual in itself and then considering how it relates to the others, as if it could be by itself. In reality it is part of a project. A divine project. When a fetus is killed, something divine has been killed, humans have in effect destroyed the work of God in a creature made in his likeness to carry out a part of his plans. That involves what good the victim would have done, but has nothing to do with it and is what really renders abortion such an abominable crime.

    As you would expect, this reality is completely alien to a mentality that regards humans as the ultimate reference for the meaning of life. They have managed to get rid of God and have taken his place. Now they decide what is worthy or unworthy. Unfortunately, this mentality has even tainted the pro-life side in the case of this utilitarian argument: it’s bad in as much as it’s bad for us.

    How to go about this? To begin with, bring people back to the origins. It’s not even a matter of the intrinsic dignity of the human being—which is none—, it’s a matter of the source of the human dignity. We need to realize that the human being by itself is nothing, literally, for anything that is to not to be, comes and goes, is ultimately nothing, as nothing would even the greatest personalties in history be, had they really disappeared. In this sense, the fetus would not even have the right to live because there are no human rights, there are only the rights of the humans, which they have as endowed by God. But without God it all disappears and humans are left to decide by themselves what rights they have and who has them or not. If they could manage by themselves, God would be unnecessary, which doesn’t make sense.

    So, we should try—I say just ‘try’ because I’m not very hopeful about how prepared we are—, to return to God the protagonist role due to him in these matters, which implies us quitting centerstage and start referring things to Him and thinking about them like Him.

    • Javier,

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my post.

      While I agree that we should return to focusing on the source of human dignity, I think we need to be cautious about phrasing. It is true that our dignity comes from God and without Him, we wouldn’t have that intrinsic dignity (we wouldn’t even exist). However, since we were created by God in His image and likeness, we do have intrinsic dignity. We cannot separate that reality from our existence, no matter how hard society tries.

  • Kate,

    I’m reminded of the army instructor who explained that bombs fell to the ground under the action of gravity, but even if there was no gravity, they would fall under their own weight.

    Sure, bodies have their own “intrinsic” weight, but the question—as with our dignity—is what it is, and where it comes from, which is the key to how to deal with this issue.

    If by intrinsic we mean that we ourselves are its source—as radical liberals claim of everything human—I would say, no, it’s not intrinsic. Inherent, may be. But if we mean that it is not conventional, that it doesn’t depend on subjective appreciation—like weight—, then yes, absolutely, it is intrinsic.

    Which, by the way, is what I say of truths that—for pragmatic reasons of public acceptance, I suppose—are argued for as Catholic—such as marriage indissolubility, right to refuse cooperating with contraception—when in reality they are universal, ‘intrinsic’ to marriage and procreation, a different question being that we know it in the light of the Catholic faith. But every one is to respect them, same as for life and dignity. Nobody can say, as I am not Catholic, I can abort, or whatever.

    Thank you. I hope my phrasing hasn’t failed me this time.

    • I think we’re both saying the same thing -that our dignity comes from God alone; we’re just articulating it differently. 🙂 Thank you for providing the clarification.

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