The abortion controversy is not a debate between those who are pro-choice and those who are anti-choice. It's not about privacy or trusting women. To the contrary, the debate turns on one key question.
Pro-life advocates contend that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. This simplifies the abortion controversy by focusing on just one question: Is the unborn a member of the human family? If so, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own intrinsic worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, elective abortion requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled. As Gregory Koukl points out, "If the unborn are not human, no justification for elective abortion in necessary. But if the unborn are human, no justification for elective abortion is adequate." (Koukl, Precious Unborn Human Persons, p. 7)
This is not to say that abortion is easy for most women. To the contrary, a decision to have one may be psychologically complex and perhaps even agonizing for some. But the topic today is not psychology, but morality: Can we know what's right even if our emotions are conflicted?
Everyone agrees that abortion kills something that's alive. After all, dead things don't grow! But whether it's right to take the life of any living being depends entirely on the question: What kind of being is it?
Some people want to ignore that question altogether. They simply assume the unborn are not human beings like you and me.
Here's how to clarify things: Whenever you hear an argument for elective abortion, ask yourself if this justification would also work to justify killing toddlers or other humans. If not, the argument assumes the unborn are not fully human, like toddlers. But again, that's the issue, isn't it?
"Women have a right to make their own private decisions."
Imagine that a woman has a two-year-old in front of her. May she kill him or her if the killing is done in the privacy of the bedroom? Of course not. Why not? Because the child is a human being. If the unborn are also human, they should not be killed in the name of privacy any more than we'd kill a toddler for that same reason.
Of course, abortion advocates respond that killing a toddler and killing a fetus are two different things, like comparing apples with oranges. But that's the issue, isn't it? Are the unborn human beings, like toddlers? That's the one issue that matters. We can't escape it.
"But many poor women cannot afford to raise another child."
When human beings get expensive, may we kill them? Suppose a large family collectively decides to quietly dispose of its three youngest children to help ease the family budget. Would this be okay?
Abortion advocates agree it's wrong to kill the children but insist that aborting a fetus is not the same as killing a child. Ah, but that's the issue: Is unjustly killing a fetus morally the same as unjustly killing a two-year old? So, once again, the issue is the same: What is the unborn?
"A woman should not be forced to bring an unwanted child into the world."
Abortion advocates sometimes argue that killing the fetus is the more humane thing to do. "Who wants to be part of a family that rejects you? Everyone has a right to be wanted." And if you aren't wanted, may we kill you? Suppose a toddler is unwanted and we have good reason to think that by the time he's five, he'll also be abused and neglected. Should we kill him now to spare him future trouble?
The answer is obviously no, but it brings us back to the one issue that matters: What is the unborn?
"No woman should be forced to raise a child with physical disabilities."
Suppose that you have in front of you a small boy who is mentally disabled. He's not very bright, cannot speak or understand much of what is said, and looks strange from head to toe. Would it be morally permissible to kill him because of his condition?
Abortion advocates agree that we cannot destroy him, that we should treat him with the same care we provide all disabled human beings. But again, this raises a prior question: If the disabled unborn are human, like the disabled toddler, should we kill them for not meeting our standard of perfection? Thus, the issue that matters most in the abortion debate isn't disability. It's "What is the unborn?"
"Every woman has a right to decide what is right and wrong for herself."
Would you force your morality on an abusive mother who was physically mistreating her two-year-old? You better. No human being should be abused.
You see the issue is not about forcing morality; it's not about privacy; it's not about economic hardship; it's not about physical disabilities; it's not about unwantedness. The issue is reduced to one question: What is the unborn?