The lengthy entry that follows is an email exchange I (Kevin) had with a boisterous, leftist, local newspaper columnist, Rick Howell, earlier last year. Howell writes for the Bedford Bulletin. I include this for a couple reasons. First, it is to illustrate the completely unfounded, purely ideological, unscientific nature of the pro-abortion platform. Secondly, because Howell uses five fairly common—however roughly stated—objections to the pro-life position, I hope that some might find the responses in my letter instructive for their own efforts defending those “who are being taken away to death” (Proverbs 24:11).
Several weeks back, in your Bedford Bulletin commentary, you said the following:
“The phrase, “pro-life,” of course, gets us to the abortion debate, and that’s an old political football many of us believe shouldn’t be kicked around anymore. But despite the fact that, for decades now, most Americans support legal abortion rights, some people just can’t let the issue go and never will ...Yet, it does seem that many people have a concern for fetuses and embryos that takes precedence over their concern for those of us who aren’t in wombs or test tubes” (3/25/09).
This week, however, in what was perhaps an unguarded moment, you said this:
“In a jail cell in Lima, Peru, a 39-year-old American woman waits to give birth to her child. She’s eight months pregnant (thus, preborn), but is not in particularly good health, and must have back surgery at some point after the birth...For American Lori Berenson, most of those facts represent progress. The baby (yet, preborn), of course, is good news” (4/9/09).
My question is simple, why the inconsistent terminology in the two articles? While I am well aware of the etymology behind the term fetus, Latin for “child, baby, offspring,” we both know that that is no longer what the term connotes in our society, especially since Roe. Why don’t use the terms “baby” and “child” when you’re advocating your pro-abortion position? Likewise, in your remarks regarding Lori Berenson, why, for consistency’s sake, did you not rather say, “[Lori Berenson] waits to give birth to her fetus...or cell mass...or part of her body”? “The blob of tissue...product of conception, of course, is good news.”
Don’t you think that Bereson would have been down right offended by your expressing yourself this way about her preborn child? Of course she would’ve been. But, why?
Furthermore, why not try this, using your 3/25 comments:
“Yet, it does seem that many people have a concern for children and babies that takes precedence over their concern for those of us who aren’t in wombs or test tubes.”
Why, therefore, are you not consistent in your terminology? As it stands, you seem to be arbitrarily using loaded language to serve your ideological ends. Also, if what is in the womb is a baby, a child (as you've admitted above), then why do you not think that the fact that nearly 4000 babies are killed in our country each day is a worthy (I'd say preeminent) topic for public/political dialogue?
If I remember correctly, when you first started writing letters, you identified yourself as 14 years old?
Yet, your letters seem beyond anything that most 14-year-olds could write.....If you're 14, and really that intelligent, then you have my congratulations. But many of us suspect that there's a deception of some kind going on here. I guess we'll never know.
Lori Berenson is not about to give birth to a fetus or an embryo. Her pregnancy is almost at an end; it's at a place where no one would consider abortion. The Roe v. Wade decision allows for abortion only in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the fetus clearly cannot live outside the womb.
In my view, a fetus that can't live outside the womb is certainly not a person as we know people. Most Americans subscribe to that view. People such as yourself are likely to trot out old Bible verses about "I knew you from the womb...." or some such stuff as that.
We celebrate birthdates, not conception dates, for a reason. We know our birthdate; no one knows their conception date.
As I said, too much time has been wasted in this country carrying on over abortion. It should be a woman's choice; not mine or your choice. That's where most people in the country are, and I think we're right.
Your memory has failed you. I haven’t identified my self as 14 years old since 1986, when I was 14. Perhaps you’re confusing me with my daughter, Israel, who, with a friend of hers, wrote a letter late last year. With pride, I would claimed their letter as my own, since it touched the issue as with a needle, and soundly debunked the points to which they were responding.
If, for whatever reason, you and the “many of us” holding this suspicion were that concerned, then you could’ve figured it out; we hide information like that in the phonebook. Or you could just use the archive search engine that the online edition of the paper provides, and find the letter in which I allegedly identify myself being 14. But, now you know my age. So, maybe there’s a little comfort in knowing that your correspondent has at least graduated—only high school, and barely that.
In respect to your response, it teems with culpable ignorance. Because you’re a journalist, and your outspokenness of pro-abortion convictions, and the sheer gravity of the issue at hand, the integrity and/or honesty of your writing is seriously wanting.
Perhaps, though, you feel that my observation is unwarranted. Despite its brevity, in your letter you offer five lines of defense to justify your equivocal use of the terms this last month. Allow me, then, to quickly show you, through examination—in the order from most to least absurd—why none of these justify your position, and thus vindicate my criticism.
(1) Your argument from birthdates reveals the ridiculousness and tottering weakness of the foundation of the pro-abortion platform.
First, you attempt to argue from cultural mores to normative morality. This is just silly. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, don’t celebrate their birthdates. Does that justify our killing them? Some people in fact don’t even know their exact birth date. Does that somehow dehumanize them, and strip them of their intrinsic value and worth as human beings? In Jewish culture, a boy’s birthday is eclipsed by his bar mitzvah, which marks another cultural flag in the boy’s biological, social, and religious development. Hence, our birth is merely a notable, even remarkable (miraculous) stage in our development along the continuum of our existence—it’s only a change in location, not essential or substantial identity.
Secondly, regarding your claim that we don’t know the date of conception. Well, this is just not true in a lot of cases, not least, my daughter’s. I can give you the exact date, place, and time of day when our daughter was conceived. But, what if I couldn’t? Would this change what or who she was just weeks later? Of course not!
Rationally speaking, you are failing to make an important philosophical distinction. Your confusing an epistemological question with an ontological question. That is to say, your confusing the question of how we know about something with the question of what that something is.
This lack of subtlety aside, when a woman decides to have an abortion, transparently she knows darn good and well that she has in fact conceived! So, this nonsense collapses.
Therefore, it is skullduggery to appeal to either the celebration of or knowledge of the date of conception, to argue that it’s morally justifiable to intentionally kill an innocent human life in the womb.
(2) Because I am a Christian, you anticipate my touting Jeremiah 1:5 or “some such stuff” to prove the pro-life position. Two things are evident here: 1) you are correct, the Bible is my pou stō, the authoritative source of my pro-life presuppositions, my final court of appeal; and 2) you don’t accept it as God’s authoritative word. These two facts hardly help you, though.
Your reasoning here is terribly fallacious. For one, it’s ad hominem. It only questions why I would argue for the pro-life case rather than addressing the validity of the arguments themselves. Two, it forces you into question begging, as you are just assuming, without argument, that the Bible is not reliable basis for such beliefs. And, three, it’s a red herring, since I have yet to mention the Bible in our conversation.
Nevertheless, just because the pro-life position is consistent with the biblical view of human life, that is not reasonable ground for rejecting the pro-life case or arguments. The Bible authoritatively declares, “Thou shall not murder,” “Thou shall not bear false witness,” “Thou shall not steal.” From this, would you then argue that Christians aren’t allowed to speak about the moral justness of laws prohibiting theft, perjury, and the premeditated destruction of innocent life? Your conclusion simply does not follow from the premise, it’s a non sequitur. Moreover, how about those pro-life organizations that share your disdain for the Bible; how does your objection discount them? They make many of the same arguments that Christian pro-lifers make. Atheists for Life and Libertarians for Life, which was founded by an atheist Jewess, are just two examples.
This objection is dead in the water, then. I find that your appealing to the Bible is as logically incorrect as you would feel my appealing to it would be politically incorrect.
(3) Your double mentioning of popular opinion is double folly for you. First, it’s simply contrary to fact. A Boston Globe poll indicated that 78 % of Americans would keep abortion legal only in circumstances that account for less than 3 % of the cases, e.g., rape, incest, life of the mother. The Los Angeles Times published a poll that revealed that 61 % believe that abortion is immoral, and 57 % think that it’s murder. Finally, according to a Gallop poll, 77 % believe that abortion takes an innocent human life. (I can provide references if you wish.) If, therefore, we can use public opinion to judge morality, rather than the other way around, then my point, not yours, is proven—abortion is immoral, murder, and thus should be outlawed in all but the tiniest percentage of cases. This brings us to your second problem with this failed objection, mob rule.
Even if you were correct on this point—but your not—has the conventional “wisdom” of the masses ever been a reasonable basis for morality? Let’s look at this by way of analogy. Less than 200 years ago, the pro-slavery rhetoricians used the same reasoning you are. “It’s a proprietor’s/state’s choice, not mine or yours! That’s where most people are in this country, and I think we’re right.” How is that on your liberal sensitivities? Would you have made this same argument then? No? Like I said, you’re inconsistent, and in more ways than one.
Furthermore, you would’ve even had your sacred cow, a Supreme Court decision buttressing your prejudiced opinions. Google the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, you’ll see my point. In that wicked ruling, Scott was deemed as a non-person on the basis of his ethnicity (or skin pigmentation), hence it was Sandford’s “choice” to do with his “property” as he saw fit. Today, we still discriminate, only now it’s on the basis of size, location, functionality, or some like arbitrary standard.
So, your faulty appeal to the popular is both factual and rational suicide.
(4) In a faulty appeal to authority, you recourse to the decrees of the Roe v. Wade case in relation to your emphatic (and correct!) insistence that Lori Berenson was giving birth to a baby rather than a “fetus.” (Technically speaking, given the Latin denotation, the baby is still a “fetus,” postnatal—only his/her location has changed!).
You said, simply because Ms. Berenson was in her third trimester, that the pregnancy is “at a place where no one would consider abortion.”
Frankly, I’m insulted by this statement. Do you believe that such a bizarre remark as this would have any sway with me?!? What kind of fool do you take me to be?!? Or, are you actually so removed, so disconnected and ill informed about the realities of the issue that the statement truly has meaning for you?!?
Fact: elective, non-therapeutic abortion is legal in the U.S. for any reason at any time during the pregnancy. (If abortions were not allowed after the first trimester, then please explain the popular D & E abortive method to me!!)
Forgive me, but I’ll not waste any more time responding to this except for the following:
1) see: www.drtiller.com; and...
2) (Here I included 3 late-term abortion photos)
Lastly, (5) the “viability” criterion. You said, “In my view, a fetus that can’t live outside the womb is certainly not a person as we know people.”
First, in saying, “In my view...” you are admitting that the viability criterion is totally arbitrary and subjective. Thus, your view can be refuted by my saying, “In my view, the criteria for personhood is a heart beat (from four weeks) and brainwaves (from six weeks).” This equally capricious standard would place prenatal personhood before the time when any abortions occur. In fact, any number of developmental landmarks could be set forth as the point where we draw the line. So, your arbitrariness goes from friend to foe rather quickly. The only objective, scientifically certain point of an individual human life’s beginning is conception.
Secondly, “...that can’t live outside the womb...” is slippery ground, even if granted for the sake of discussion. That moment changes almost daily. That moment depends not on what the being in the womb is in itself, but rather our medical technologies and advancements. Since Roe, the point of “viability” has gone from 30 weeks to 20, with some more recent cases breeching even the 20th week mark. So, even if you were right—and your not—many of what were respectably called abortions just 10 or 20 years ago would be judged homicides today; that is, even by your own standard.
Thirdly, your criterion, medically speaking, depends on lung development. The reason premature babies struggle and sometimes die outside the womb is because their lungs are not fully prepared to absorb the oxygen needed for postnatal survival. Nevertheless, respiration is and has been occurring throughout the preborn’s entire development, for oxygen is a necessary condition for every living organism; and the preborn is a living human organism, ergo, respiration occurs. The change is one in developmental degree.
So, it’s not that the preborn, irrespective of its level of development, has not been getting oxygen, what’s changed is how they get it once their environment changes. If how developed a human being is can be the standard by which their personhood is valuated, then I ask you, did you “cherish your son, Ryan” less before he reach puberty and was able to reproduce? This is surely a great turning point in one’s development. With my daughter, it changed her entire shape and appearance...and I’m not the only one who noticed these radical changes, so has every young man who sees her! The point: basing one’s “view” on what makes a preborn into a person on such ridiculous criterion as lung development is nonsense. How we take in oxygen does not magically change us into something else, much less from non-person into person!
Related to this is, fourth, your prejudice based on the baby’s measure of dependency. But, a premature baby in an incubator is surely not any less valuable and worthy of protection and care that one in its mother’s arms, is it? Likewise, how about Christopher Reeves, who shared your zeal for the utterly unproductive (immoral) exercise of embryonic stem cell research? One day of neglect would have killed him just as effectively as an abortion kills an innocent preborn baby. Would his utter lack of independence thus be moral justification for killing him, or so many who are like him? As for lungs again, millions of peoples’ survival is dependant upon alternate means of getting oxygen. Can we kill them? The list of absurdities goes on: those in comas, on respirators, dialysis, insulin, etc, etc. A newborn’s and a preborn’s difference is merely in the level and type of dependency they have on others, nothing more! And if you can’t justify elective murder for newborns, then neither can you for preborns.
The final phase of your statement that I wish to address is, “not a person as we know people.” This is about as intolerant of a remark as I’ve heard. You are basing a preborn’s personhood on relational normalcy?!? Although, neither of us will have the privilege of being a pregnant mother, that does not prevent us from observing the fact that the mother-preborn relationship is one of the most intimate in human experience. So, again even by your own silly standards, your argument fails. The fact that the preborn is hidden from your sight in the sanctuary of your mother’s womb does not change who or what it is!
With the viability criterion, then, you have set out to grant personhood on the grounds of the ever changing, arbitrary point of lung development; the measure of the preborns dependency, and a difference in social relationships. We’ve seen this to be ludicrous, since the same standard can be equally applied to others in the human community as sufficient grounds for their extermination; you (I hope) don’t find these cases morally acceptable; and in rejecting them, you therefore contradict yourself, thus, rejecting the standard. Hence, again, you cannot live consistently with you view of the issue.
In conclusion then, these, your reasons for the arbitrary and equivocal use of terms, have absolutely failed to justify your doing it. Moreover, your pithy, unargued assertions, which you believe warrant your pro-abortion stance, are equally absurd under the slightest bit of logical scrutiny.
Both of these points demonstrate that what you are doing when you use your privileged venue in the press is socially irresponsible, if not criminal, since lives are in the balance, and you obviously haven’t an informed, carefully researched perspective on this issue. Thus, you are guilty of culpable ignorance. But, now you know better. Right? I hope that you’ll carefully consider the error of your past way and reconsider the perennial abuse of your column for the influence others in your own delusion and/or self-deception.
In addition, I’d have you notice that I never appealed to Scripture at any point in this discussion. Rather, I have relied on your ultimate authorities, reason and science. Why have these failed you, you ask? Because even in spite of your denial, reason and science, like us all, too are depend upon God and his sovereign rule and providence. Thus, we both presuppose His reality and authority in our dialogue. The difference is, I, by grace, recognize our dependency upon Him and submission to Him, and you don’t. This is also the reason that you cannot nor ever will be able to create a coherent, rational argument against the pro-life position, since that would be to contradict God’s interpretation of the issue, and hence, contradict what the case really is. I encourage you to carefully consider these things as well.
Might I recommend that you check out Democrats for Life. Here is an organization that proves the pro-life perspective transcends even the political chasm.
Therefore, if the killing of innocent human individuals is prima facie evil, then abortion is a prima facie evil, since the preborn is a human individual deserving of the same rights as you and I. And since abortion is killing an innocent, individual human being, it is not the case that “It should be a woman’s choice,” because no one has the right to choose to murder another human being!
PS. I am often charged with verbosity, and rightly so, I suppose. However, given that your vocation swings on the readership of others, perhaps you can find it in your heart to overlook this shortcoming of mine and indulge me a bit. Thank you in advance.
NOTE: Mr. Howell never responded, and so lead me to submit this in a letter to the editor in the paper that he writes for. To my knowledge, he's not attacked the pro-life cause since;)
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4