May 29, 2014

We need an abortion law

LIFE Magazine, April 30, 1965
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 29, 2014

We need an abortion law

Abortion in Canada is legal right up to birth. Yes, most abortions occur much earlier, and most doctors don't do late-term abortions. But wouldn't a law be appropriate to protect, say, those few children in their last trimester who risk an unjust death by abortion?

Also, wouldn't a law be appropriate to protect children from increasingly popular sex-selective abortion (gendercide), the killing of children merely because they are girls? And wouldn't a law be appropriate to protect the many children who risk being killed merely because they have Down syndrome?

Such a law could save hundreds of lives, probably thousands, yearly. Such a law could be supported by all Canadians, surely.

Still, some object to any legislation that restricts abortion. No law is needed, we are told. We should all be "pro-choice," we are told.

We are even told that abortion legislation is misguided: we should instead deal with the underlying causes that drive women to abortion. A pregnant woman may be facing, say, psychological problems, so we only need to deal with that.

But this objection is weak.

First, keep in mind that abortion kills an unborn child—a human being.

Second, consider what Scott Klusendorf, a pro-life activist, writes about the deal-only-with-underlying-causes argument:

"[T]his is like saying that the 'underlying cause' of spousal abuse is psychological; so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men."

Klusendorf adds: "There are 'underlying causes' for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it 'misguided' to have laws banning such actions."

Think about it: psychological problems require psychological solutions, not the killing innocent children. So, to protect the children, we need a law.

Or, if the underlying causes that drive women to abortion are social or economic, then we require social or economic solutions, not the killing of innocent children. So, again, to protect the children, we need a law.

At this juncture, someone might object that Canada's criminal code presently tells us that the unborn child becomes a human being only after he/she is born. Yes, this is what our law says.

But Canada's criminal code is mistaken.

Enter 21st-century science. Contemporary science—embryology, fetology, and biology—tells us that the human fetus is in fact a human being, i.e., it's a genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic entity which belongs to the human species. It's not feline or canine; it's human. It's not a cat being or a dog being; it's a human being. It's not a kitten or a puppy; it's a human child.

At this juncture, one might grant that the unborn child is in fact a human being, but object that it isn't a "person." That is, the unborn human being lacks that specific developmental feature which confers "personhood." When it has that feature, only then does it have the right to life.

This is known as a "decisive moments" approach to personhood, which is deeply problematic. The allegedly decisive features fail because they rule out various persons who clearly already have the right to life. As a result, the equality of equal rights gets ungrounded.

For example, if complex personal consciousness is the criterion of personhood, then sleeping or stunned persons lose their right to life. If viability is the criterion, then personhood measures not actual humanity but instead hospital technology, the sophistication of which varies from place to place, rendering same-aged children persons in some hospitals and non-persons in other hospitals.

What about the unborn child's lack of brain activity (in its early stages), which in adults indicates death? Nope. This personhood criterion confuses death and development: end-of-life permanent cessation doesn't equal pre-natal temporary absence with capacity to bloom.

For the sake of children, we need a law. See

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

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