In a post not too long ago, I explained some of the ways pro-lifers can think about and respond to accusations that the Pro-life movement is “forcing” women to be pregnant or give birth.
These objections are becoming commonplace in discussions around abortion, and they often stun pro-life advocates into silence. When faced with an accusation of being “pro-forced birth”, pro-lifers will sometimes go into a sort of defense mode, and rush to clarify that we are not interested in forcing people to do anything, but rather in protecting innocent human beings from being unjustly killed.
This is absolutely true, and isn’t in itself a bad answer; however, more can be said in order to help critics understand the moral issues at play here. What many people seem to be assuming is that it is fundamentally unjust to require a woman to carry out a pregnancy or to give birth against her will, regardless of whether or not abortion involves an act of killing. More on this in a moment.
Let’s set aside the ethics of abortion procedures themselves for a moment, and change the situation slightly. Suppose a young woman, we’ll call her Emily, finds out she is pregnant, and, not wanting to give birth or go through the process of pregnancy, she decides to seek out help. She considers abortion; however, she comes across a new procedure unlike anything done before. A group of scientists, working in secret, have perfected a technique by which they won’t terminate the pregnancy per se, but they can “undo” it, restoring her body to the point before she became pregnant without the need of invasive surgery or use of chemicals. They explain to her, you can think of it as the “Undo” function on a program such as Microsoft Word.
However, there is a catch. Because the scientists have been working in secret and didn’t want anyone to find out about their project, they committed financial fraud when obtaining money for their research. A police detective is close to locating their enterprise and exposing their misdeeds. So the scientists make the woman an offer: They will perform the procedure on her, but if and only if she will kill the detective on their behalf since he won’t expose them. Is Emily justified in taking this bargain? Is it justifiable to kill an innocent human being(in this case, the detective) to be free from pregnancy and the birthing process?
Let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose it’s not a detective, but a rival researcher who has discovered the first group of scientists’ method, and is planning to patent the technique for himself in order to profit off of it. The scientists tell Emily, they will perform the procedure, but first, in order to send a message to their rival, they ask her to kill his two year old son, so as to intimidate the rival into backing down. Is Emily justified in killing a stranger two year old just so she can be free from being pregnant? Everyone should, at this point, recognize the problem here and agree that there is a limit to what Emily may justly do.
Let’s alter the scenario one more time. The scientists tell Emily that, because she has another child(a one year old), they need to collect tissues from her child in order for the pregnancy reversal to work. However, the collection procedure is almost always fatal, meaning Emily’s one year old will be killed during the process of collecting tissue. Is Emily justified in taking this offer so she need not remain pregnant against her will?
By now it should be clear what is going on. Setting aside other moral issues with the scenarios(such as covering up financial crimes) everyone, pro-life and pro-choice, can agree that intentionally killing another human being to end a pregnancy is wrong, so long as the killing takes place outside the womb. Where the confusion exists is in regards to killing inside the womb. Many people are simply assuming that abortion does not involve the intentional killing of an innocent human being, without providing(or perhaps understanding) a reason for the distinction.
A recent video by another pro-life organization helps highlight this way of thinking. During a Justice For All outreach event, Rebekah, a staff member with JFA, discusses this objection with a pro-choice student. After using a similar analogy to the ones above, the student blurts out “Well there’s a big difference between killing an infant and abortion.”
Therein lies the issue. If abortion isn’t the intentional killing of innocent human beings, then it follows asking someone to remain pregnant and avoid abortion is, in a sense, unjustly “forcing” them to remain pregnant. However, if abortion does kill a member of the human family, then the “Forced Pregnancy” objection ends up meaning that asking someone who is already pregnant to remain so and give birth is far more wicked and unjust than deliberately killing someone in order to end it. Anyone who suggests this has an immense burden of proof to establish the moral legitimacy of their claim.
Lastly, it should be pointed out that when it comes to abortion, the vast majority of cases are regarding pregnancy resulting from consensual sexual intercourse, an action the woman in question willingly consented to. If we’re talking about pregnancy resulting from consensual sex, then the objection “You’re forcing me to be pregnant/give birth” starts to look less compelling, and instead appears to be a narcissistic way of thinking, where one’s immediate sexual desires should be seen as more important than the well-being and actual lives of other people, especially one’s own children. That is not just in any sense of the word. It’s selfish.
The scenarios above don’t refute the pro-choice position or establish the pro-life position, but they do end up clarifying the issue: Can we kill human beings before they are born? Are we human beings before we are born? Pro-life advocates still need to explain and argue for their conclusions, but hopefully this can be done with more clarity.