In a January 23 article at the New York Times, Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at the (nominally?) Catholic Notre Dame University asks the question, “Should Pope Francis Rethink Abortion?” As I read through his article, I was taken aback by how poor and contradictory his reasoning was.
Wesley J. Smith and Matthew Archbold have already published excellent responses to Gutting’s article – so I won’t reinvent the wheel, but will rather discuss a few of the fundamental errors in his thinking.
There is considerable rational basis for moral concern about abortions. In many (probably most) cases, it would be immoral to abort a pregnancy. (Note, however, that this by no means implies that most abortions actually performed are immoral.) Late-term fetuses, for example, are no different biologically or psychologically from babies born prematurely at the same stage of development. It’s hard to see how killing a premature baby is immoral but killing an identical late-term fetus isn’t. At a minimum, aborting a healthy late-term fetus would, except when the mother’s life is at risk, be immoral — which is no doubt why it is seldom, if ever, done.
He is correct. Late-term fetuses – other than their environment, i.e. they are outside of the womb – are no different from babies born prematurely. And again, it is hard to see how killing one would be acceptable while killing the other would not be.
He claims that late-term abortions are so rare as to hardly ever happen. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute, in 2005, 12% of U.S. abortions (approximately 144,000) are committed after the first trimester (12 weeks post LMP). And 1.3% (approximately 15,600) were committed after the 20th week of pregnancy.
Next, Gutting attempts to define what he calls a “potential human:”
Further, from conception on, an embryo or fetus is at least potentially human in the sense that, allowed to develop along its natural path, there is a human life ahead for it.
“Potential” is defined as having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future. If the developing fetus inside the womb of a human woman is not itself human, then pray what is it? Is it non-human? Is it a gramophone or a banana? And – if it is in fact a potential human, at what point does it transition from potential to actual – and, how do you know that?
This distinction is absurd – and this is why I have treated it as such above.
The reason the author makes this distinction is made evident by his comments that follow. He must first separate off the early preborn child into a separate class, identify the child as other-than-human, not actually human, potentially human, etc. thereby dehumanizing the preborn child. Only after he has declared the early preborn child to be less of a human than a later preborn child, can he proceed to advocate for their destruction.
As we proceed through Gutting’s article – a veritable play-by-play from the abortion lobby’s handbook, we come across the rape question. By justifying abortion in the case of rape, Gutting attempts to open the door to the possibility that abortion may also be acceptable in other cases. The “abortion in the case of rape” question deserves at least an entire article of its own – I will not go into this in depth here.
Briefly, to be compelled to unwillingly nurture another is an injustice. However causing the death of that individual by withholding nurture that could only be provided by yourself is a great deal more unjust. Therefore, if someone finds themselves in this unfortunate, tragic position, they are morally obliged to provide the nurture until the reliant individual is able to be taken and cared for by another.
Let’s just be clear though – if Gutting was convinced by his argument that the preborn child is sub-human, he wouldn’t even need to bother with the rape argument, because it would be obsolete. If the preborn child is sub-human, what’s the issue? Just kill it!
Other exceptions to the condemnation of abortion arise once we realize that an early-stage embryo may be biologically human but still lack the main features — consciousness, self-awareness, an interest in the future — that underlie most moral considerations. An organism may be human by purely biological criteria, but still merely potentially human in the full moral sense. As we saw, Marquis’s argument shows that killing a potential human is in itself bad, but there’s no reason to think that we are obliged to preserve the life of a potential human at the price of enormous suffering by actual humans.
Here he acknowledges that the preborn child is biologically human. He then seeks to continue his effort of dehumanization of the preborn human by pointing out that it lacks consciousness, self-awareness, and an interest in the future.
Perhaps Gutting has met premature babies who are conscious, self-aware and have an interest in the future. I’m sure he has had many fascinating conversations with these young children. If not – why would he (see above) be so adamant that killing them is obviously wrong?
And now we get to it, the dirty reality of what this academic is pushing for. The sacrifice of the dehumanized human on the altar of the “actual” human.
Gutting signs off his article,
Allowing for exceptions to the moral condemnation of abortion in some of these painful situations would not contradict the pope’s overall commitment to the “value of the human person.”
Preposterous. He hasn’t successfully argued this position at all. All he has done is to dehumanize the preborn child to a point where it need not be endowed with value as a human person. All he has done is redefine what it means to be a human person.
This Notre Dame professor’s article holds zero credibility.
Please let me know if you think I have aptly demonstrated this in the comments below.