A Different Approach To The Issue Of Abortion


With health care at the forefront of the public debate, the issue of abortion is back in the news again.  I realize this is a very controversial and emotional issue, and my intent is not to polarize people further. I even debated whether to publish this post, but I decided to do so because I believe there is a rational path toward resolution on this issue.

The problem with the issue of abortion is both sides start from opposing presuppositions.  Pro-lifers presuppose a fetus is a human life.  Abortion-advocates presuppose a fetus is not a human life, or that it is not until it becomes viable, or they are agnostic and believe a woman’s choice trumps all.  Because both sides start from opposing presuppositions they will never reach the same conclusion.  Any resolution is dependent on one or both sides starting from a different place.

I propose both start from a more humble and honest place: the place of uncertainty.  The great jurist, Learned Hand said, “The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not sure it is right.”  That is a great place to start.

I think there is great evidence, both scientific and Biblical, that a fetus is a human life, but I am willing to set that aside and state that I might be wrong.  If you are on the other side of the issue you will surely admit you cannot know for certain that a fetus is not a life.  It may be. It may not be.  You may have an opinion, but you cannot honestly say you know for certain.  Now that we are at the same place–the place of uncertainty–we have something to talk about.

Suppose we were out hunting and you saw something moving in the thicket in the distance you thought was a deer, but you were not sure.  It might be a deer, but it might also be a man. You are uncertain.  Would you pull the trigger?  Would anyone? Would you take the chance of killing a human being? Of course not.  The issue of abortion is no different.  If you cannot be certain a fetus is not a human life you cannot advocate abortion; and the truth is you cannot be certain.

What happens is people allow expediency or the mother’s preferences and desires to trump their uncertainty.  But this is not rational, nor in the face of uncertainty can it be ethical.  It’s just expedient.  It’s no different than slave owners deciding African-Americans were not fully human because slave owners didn’t want to give up their cotton and tobacco profits.  I’ve never had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and while I can guess, I cannot say I fully understand what a mother of an unwanted pregnancy feels in the moment of decision.  But I don’t need to know because we are trying to arrive a rational, ethical decision, not an emotional one.

Anyway, that’s how I see it, but I may be wrong.  GS