Protecting your rights can mean hardship for me

I’m going to put something out there that maybe you didn’t know about me. Here it is: I’m much too self-focused and inclined to resist doing hard things that will cause me discomfort or distress or otherwise disadvantage me. It’s not an uncommon disposition so chances are good you tend to be so inclined as well.

I mention this only to establish that, though I don’t agree with them, I understand the motivation behind these next “arguments from pity” that Francis J. Beckwith addresses in his book Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights.(1) It is in our nature to seek to avoid hardship if possible, sometimes even if it results in hardship or suffering, or worse, for someone else. But doing what comes natural is rarely proper justification for infringing on the rights of others…especially when the infringement is on the other’s very right to existence.

But this is exactly what abortion rights supporters suggest with these other “pitiful” arguments answered by Beckwith in Chapter 4 of his book, which I’ll just briefly highlight.

Argument from the Deformed and Mentally Handicapped Child
Raising any child is sometimes hard, but children who are born with physical or mental disabilities, like Down Syndrome, present additional difficulties for parents. Does that justify killing them? As Beckwith states, “None of us has a right to expect someone else, whether it is an unborn child or a full-grown adult, to forfeit his or her life so that we may be relieved of a burden.”

Argument from Interference in Career
For women who are focused on having a career, having a baby as well can be a major problem. For some, better to abort than sacrifice opportunities that will satisfy their desire for personal fulfillment. But is this not the most despicably evil of attitudes if the unborn child is as fully human as the born one, which is the only argument that really counts? The author asks, “What would we think of a mother who murdered her two-year-old because he interfered with her ability to advance in her occupation?”

Argument from Rape and Incest
It is plainly illegitimate to “kill innocent person B to save person A.” The child conceived in rape or incest is not the guilty party nor the aggressor and should not be expected to pay for the one who is, nor to give his life in order to spare his mother further emotional distress. As difficult as it might be to carry and bear the child of a man who brutally violated her, if the unborn child is fully human, then if we would not sanction killing the one-year-old who is a constant reminder of the violent act, neither should we sanction killing her before she’s born.

Argument from Pity for the Women Prosecuted, Convicted, and/or Sentenced for Murder if Abortion is Made Illegal
The prospect of women being convicted and jailed for murder if abortion is again made a criminal deed seems intolerably unjust to many. Beckwith presents an argument from the leniency given to women in past illegal abortion cases before Roe v. Wade to suggest that post-abortive women would not be treated like cold-blooded killers if abortion is again criminalized. Just as a person’s mental state and other factors are considered when sentencing those currently convicted of murder, so too would they be in future criminal abortion cases. Factors including a distorted perception of the nature of the unborn entity, likely influence of others pressuring or encouraging and helping her obtain the abortion, the need to secure her testimony against the abortionist, as well as a fragile mental state would weigh against imposing a harsh sentence.

Beckwith closes Chapter 4 with a discussion of the nature of rights, concluding that “the utilitarian arguments for abortion rights, although a source of powerful rhetoric, have little to do with the real question of rights.” To successfully make their case, abortion rights advocates must establish that the unborn are not “persons” and therefore not entitled to any rights. The author critically examines this position in a later chapter, but ends here with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe.

If this suggestion of personhood [of the unborn] is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.

Next up: Arguments from Tolerance and Ad Hominem

1. Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993)