Sure, Let’s Be Honest About Abortion


Over at The Corner, Alexandra DeSanctis is unhappy that Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, refuses to say whether she considers a fetus to be a human being:

She avoided the questions because the abortion industry is built on the lie that the unborn child isn’t a living human, and if they acknowledge that this claim is fiction, their entire system will collapse.

….People on either side of the abortion debate can disagree on what rights that human being has. We can argue over the relevance of fetal viability, and we can differ on whether a woman’s right to “bodily autonomy” is more important than her child’s right to life. But these two fundamentally contradictory positions about the child’s humanity cannot both be correct; either each unborn child is a living human being, or it isn’t…..Until pro-abortion leaders such as Laguens are willing to admit to this humanity, it will remain impossible to have an honest disagreement about the competing rights at stake in this debate.

Well, I’m not on TV and nobody cares what I think, so I can say what Laguens wouldn’t: a fetus is not a living human in any sensible way. I can’t prove this. It’s like asking whether a beanbag is a chair. It’s an opinion, not a fact.

As for why Laguens wouldn’t answer, it’s not because she’s dishonest. Certainly no more so than pro-lifers who refuse to say whether women who get abortions should be thrown in jail for murder. In both cases there are arguments to be made either way, but none of them really matter. The real reason for reticence is that neither side wants to make scary-sounding statements that might drive moderates away from their side.

In any case, it’s not as if this is a bewildering mystery. “Life,” in anything other than a technical biological sense, is a matter of human judgment.1 We decide when it starts and when it ends. Both of these are gray areas, but they’re gray areas where we set up semi-arbitrary rules: 20 weeks or viability or third trimester or EEG flatline or lack of retinal response or something similar. What other choice do we have? If you’re going to have the government involved, you have to create a reasonably bright-line rule for people to follow.

Speaking personally, I offer up this hypothetical. On your left you have a baby. On your right you have a vial with an embryo in it. At the end of 60 seconds, one of them will be randomly crushed unless you make a choice of which to save. So which is it?

I don’t think anyone, pro-life or otherwise, would hesitate. You’d save the baby even if the vial had two embryos in it. Or a hundred. Or a thousand. There’s simply no visceral sense in which we genuinely feel that a fertilized egg is a human being. You can make an intellectual argument for it, but not one that will survive contact with the real world.

1Needless to say, none of this applies to religious arguments. Dogma is not open to debate with nonbelievers.