The United States population has been divided on the abortion issue since access to abortion has been available to the public. According to a collection of survey results by the Pew Research Center, 58% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These public views of abortion have remained relatively unchanged since 1995. Regarding abortion, the general conservative position is that human life begins inside the womb (pro-life position), and the liberal position is that human life begins outside the womb (pro-choice position). In the context of the abortion debate, how should pro-life conservatives (and some liberals) argue their pro-life case? Before making any pro/anti-abortion argument, the pro-lifers must solidify their ideological position by asking themselves three questions.
Question 1 – When does human life begin?
The socially conservative answer may seem so obvious. Of course human life begins at conception! But does it? A person’s answer to this question will determine all of the other person’s positions relating to abortion. For example, if an Adam believes that human life begins when the sperm conceives the egg, then terminating that zygote is identical to killing an innocent human being. If this Adam believes that killing any innocent non-consenting human being should be illegal, then killing the conceived egg should also be illegal. This means that there should be zero exceptions (i.e. rape, incest, life of the mother) to any abortion since the normal person wouldn’t make those same exceptions to humans already born (as the conceived egg and a born baby are equally human). If Adam believes those exceptions should be made, then he is logically inconsistent. The pro-lifer must know when human life begins so that they have a foundation for their arguments and are prepared to defend it.
Question 2 – How do you know when human life begins?
When a person gives a what/when/who but doesn’t provide a how, the person immediately loses credibility. Everyone seems to have the answer on the abortion issue; very few seem to have a good reason for their answers. One way to persuasively demonstrate a pro-life position is by using the most current scientific data on the human gestation process. For example, the conception argument may not be among the most convincing pro-life arguments due to how early it is in the gestation process, but the viability argument may be. Because a human fetus has been documented to live outside the womb at 21 weeks gestation (viable), the argument is that this 21-week human fetus should be considered a human being. Of course, this isn’t to say that the human fetus at 20 weeks gestation or younger is not a human being, but a viable human fetus can be argued to be a human being since human beings are naturally viable. Caveat: people should be careful not to confuse the difference between calling something a human fetus vs. a human being and the physical reality of that something. The physical makeup of an organism at 21 weeks gestation does not somehow change based on whether the organism is inside or outside the womb or whether people call the organism fetus or baby.
Question 3 – What laws regarding abortion should exist?
Among the three questions, this is the most important question as it relates to your position as a pro-lifer. Answers to question one and two fuel the reasons for your answers in question three. Topics that relate to these answers include public funding of abortion clinics, academic content in public schools, whether or not abortion clinics should even exist, the person/people allowed to make the abortion decision, prerequisites of the woman pursuing abortion, qualifications of a legal abortion, etc. Regardless of the laws, as a conservative (and a federalist), I think most abortion-related laws should be instituted and enforced at the state level.
I recommend all pro-lifers to write out the answers to all three questions and fully understand those answers prior to engaging in an abortion debate with pro-choice advocates. Doing so will help you be more persuasive, prevent you from questioning your own pro-life position during the exchange, and provide you the tools to remain ideologically consistent and rational in the context of increasing overemotional squabbles in our current political climate.