Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To a Student at Shanghai American School on "Abortion as Genocide."

This letter is a continuation of our correspondence. The student is writing as part of an AP Language class. It began with an essay of hers in response to one of mine and one of Cathleen Kaveny, professor of law and theology at Notre Dame.

Dear Emily,

I appreciate the tone of your discussion. You might be interested to know that one of my sons, who was 18 at the time, spent last spring semester at the City University of Hong Kong and also traveled some on the mainland of China while he was there.

The original context of the [my] essay that appeared in the Opposing Viewpoints Series was a university student newspaper where I was answering specific criticisms, which limited the scope of the points I made.

A fundamental issue surrounding abortion is personhood. One similarity between abortion and more recognized atrocities such as genocide is the denial of personhood status to human beings. I think that you will find it almost universally accepted in the scientific/medical world that an individual human life begins at fertilization. The controversy centers on the philosophical/political question of when a human being becomes a person. “Pro-life” people say that a human being at whatever stage of development is a person, while “pro-choice” people make a variety of claims but generally say that a human being does not become a full person with a legal right to life until “viabilty” or birth.

Citing possible positive outcomes does not solve the ethical issues of personhood because one could also find such outcomes for the Holocaust, as an example. The creation of the State of Israel as a sanctuary for Jewish survivors was one positive result, and as morally absurd as it sounds, the Holocaust reduced the overall instance of crime among the Jewish populations, which had a net effect on crime.

(In any case, the positive outcomes you referenced, and the research are certainly contested. See, for example, . )

I would like to address the other specifics that you mentioned, but time is limited, so I offer a referral to two books that represent the best pro-life apologetics I know, both by Francis J. Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University. The books are: Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights and Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.

Both books, and editorial summaries and reviews, can be found at . One item Beckwith raises is a difference between artifactual and biological development. An artifact, like a clock or a rocket, is put together piece by piece and is not functional as such until it is complete. A living being, however, begins all at once and in time its self-directed development shows us what it has been all along.

A final comment: I don’t think any word is adequate now to describe all that abortion is. “Foeticide” has as weakness the common use of the word “fetus” to dehumanize pre-natal human life. Fetus does not specifically apply to human beings, but to any mammalian species. Maybe we will just have to wait for someone like Raphel Lemkin, someone with a passionate intellectual interest in the law and in words combined with an overwhelming personal interest in the terribleness of the Holocaust, since most of his relatives were murdered. And perhaps we will have to wait for more of a consensus against abortion, since it’s not the words themselves that have power, but the weight we give to them.

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