On Sunday, Gerard Biard, the current editor of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, argued in an interview with NBC that religion should be a strictly private affair. The publication, which is known for its satirical jabs at religion, was recently the target of a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic extremists. Twelve people were killed in the massacre, including Stéphane Charbonnier, the magazine’s former editor.
What makes human beings so special? What gives us value? When we assert that it is worse to kill a human than to kill a dolphin, are we guilty of racism, or more precisely, of speciesism? On what rational ground can we assert that Homo sapiens should be considered more valuable than any other animal?
In a debate between Yale professor Shelly Kagan (left) and Christian philosopher William Lane Craig (right), Kagan attempted an answer:
In recent days, the decision not to indict the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner sparked massive protests in New York City and elsewhere. Protestors alleged that the law turned a blind eye to the murder of one person – and because of outrage, protestors took to the streets and shut down an entire city. As I viewed images of crowds filling the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square, I was reminded of the value of every human life. Should not the same attention be given to the preborn who are denied their fundamental right to life every single day?
According to a recent report by Reuters, a court in Argentina has ruled that Sandra, an orangutan living in a Buenos Aires zoo, is a “non-human person.” The court determined that Sandra’s internment in the zoo is therefore an unlawful violation of her fundamental rights. According to Paul Buompadre, the lawyer representing Sandra, “[t]his opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories.”
Now in many countries, including the United States, members of the species Homo sapiens are not granted legal rights until they are born. The landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade declared, “The unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.” In other words, the law considers a fetus belonging to the species Homo sapiens a “human non-person.”
According to this logic, the term “human rights” is a misnomer. If a “non-human person” possesses these rights and a “human non-person” does not possess these rights, then the determining factor is clearly personhood, not humanity. Thus, individuals do not have “human rights”; they have “person rights.” The U.N. Commission on Human Rights has been misnamed.
A common narrative in our society is that, by opposing abortion and infanticide, Christians are conducting a “war on women.” However, in a fascinating study entitled “The Rise of Christianity,” published by Princeton University Press, sociologist Rodney Stark argues that the phenomenal growth of “the obscure, marginal Jesus movement” was due in large part to women. Stark argues that early Christianity was “especially attractive to women” because “within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large.”
Furthermore, Stark argues that the Christian opposition to abortion and infanticide was one of the key factors that produced this higher status. Put simply, Christians granted women the right to live.
Infanticide in the Ancient World
Female infanticide was extremely prevalent in the ancient world – so much so that the ratio of men to women in the Roman Empire is estimated at 7 to 5. Stark notes that in a study of 600 ancient families from Delphi, only six had raised more than one daughter.
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter seems to enjoy being angry. In a recent opinion piece entitled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to Idiotic,” she blasts Dr. Kent Brantly, the American missionary who contracted Ebola while serving victims of the disease in Liberia.
She argues that he should have stayed in America and fought the “culture war.” She accuses him of “narcissism,” claiming he “left his wife and children” in Texas and flew to Africa so he could be viewed as “heroic.” According to Coulter, his true motive was cowardice. Christians “slink off to Third World countries” because they are tired of the fierce opposition they face in America.
A young woman from Palm Bay, Florida, was arrested this week after giving birth in a bathroom and leaving her child in a plastic bag underneath the sink. Let me guess. This happened because she did not have access to a safe and legal abortion, right? Wrong. According to Florida Today,
She told police she hid her pregnancy because previously, her mother and the mother of her baby’s father forced her into having an abortion. She thought they would make her do the same with this pregnancy.
Twenty-two year old Nicole Kelly was charged with second degree murder this week after admitting to police that she had killed her 11-month-old son, Kiam Felix Jr. “I didn’t want the child,” she explained. “I was taking care of my son by myself for 11 months and getting overwhelmed. On July 6th I snapped. I decided I was done being his only caretaker. I tucked his entire body underneath the sheet to make sure he couldn’t breathe.” According to prosecutors, she then “callously” took a thirty minute shower while he died.
This Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, arguably the most influential Christian thinker of the 20th century. Lewis, a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, was a Cambridge professor, an Oxford don, and the author of such beloved classics as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, Till We Have Faces, The Abolition of Man, and Mere Christianity. Decades after his death, his works continue to inspire and challenge millions around the globe.
So how did this towering Christian intellect feel about abortion? In short, he considered it a sin. In a personal letter dated July 1951, Lewis made this statement:
It is certainly not wrong to try to remove the natural consequences of sin provided the means by which you remove them are not in themselves another sin. (E.g. it is merciful and Christian to remove the natural consequences of fornication by giving the girl a bed in a maternity ward and providing for the child’s keep and education, but wrong to remove them by abortion or infanticide.) (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, 91)
An intelligent young Christian once told me he did not know if elective abortion was wrong, even in the second trimester. He needed to do more research on the issue, he explained, because he did not want to make a decision based on emotion.
I have two problems with this approach.
First, the idea that the abortion question will be decided by research is very naive. For example, consider the two scholars Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, who recently wrote an article in the distinguished Journal of Medical Ethics entitled, “After Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” In this article, these scholars argue that parents should be allowed to kill their child, not only in the second trimester, but even after birth.
In The Coming of the Third Reich, hailed by the Atlantic Monthly as “the definitive English-language account,” Cambridge historian Richard Evans outlines the various philosophies which undergirded the Nazi regime. Among many others, he points to thinkers such as Ernst Haeckel, who openly advocated killing the mentally ill, and Alfred Ploetz, who believed a panel of doctors should attend every birth to determine if the baby was fit to live. As Evans proceeds to explain,
Such a technocratically rationalistic approach to population management presupposed an entirely secular, instrumental approach to morality. Christian precepts such as the sanctity of marriage and parenthood, or the equal value of every being endowed with an immortal soul, were thrown out of the window….Fundamentally, racial hygiene was born of a new drive for society to be governed by scientific principles irrespective of all other considerations. (p. 38)
In defense of legal abortion, pro-choice advocates often appeal to the circumstance of rape. Surely, they argue, a woman who has been raped has the right to an abortion.
This issue needs to be approached carefully, for we certainly do not want to give anyone the impression that we are minimizing the evil of rape. However, the pro-choice argument is not really about rape at all. As I will attempt to demonstrate, the circumstance of rape is irrelevant to the abortion debate.
Several years ago, I heard a radio talk show featuring callers who first learned of their pregnancy after going into labor. (As unbelievable as it may seem, this actually happens on some rare occasions. Both ABC News and BBC News have published articles describing this phenomenon.) During the radio program, the host asked one of the callers what her partner’s response had been after the surprise birth. The woman explained that the father of the child was not in her life. She had been raped.
Now does this woman, unable to have an abortion, still possess the right to kill her child? While the notion of legalized infanticide is not without support, I believe that the majority of pro-choice Americans would answer no. But then the inevitable question arises. If the circumstance of rape renders abortion morally acceptable, why does it not render infanticide morally acceptable? The pro-choice advocate must respond by asserting that there is a profound moral difference between killing a fetus and killing an infant. But if this is the case, then the abortion argument is settled, and there is no need to appeal to the circumstance of rape. In other words, whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, the circumstance of rape is irrelevant.
So how should we respond when pro-choice advocates appeal to rape? With two simple questions:
1) When does the rape exception end?
If a woman was raped, does she have the right to kill the child in the second trimester? Does she have the right to kill the child in the third trimester? Does she have the right to a partial-birth abortion? What about an “after-birth abortion“? Force them to give you a specific stage in the development of the child at which the rape exception is no longer applicable.
Simply ask them to defend the answer they have given to the first question. Why is it unacceptable to kill the child after that particular point, but acceptable to kill the child before that point? This will force them to address the central question underlying the abortion debate: which human beings have value?