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Salon Piece Says ‘Pro-Choice Ethics’ Prove Abortion Isn’t Murder

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

There’s a moral and ethical case to be made for abortion, according to two experts writing for Salon.

Earlier this month, Salon published a piece examining “Why the case against abortion is weak, ethically speaking.” Nathan Nobis, an associate professor of philosophy at Morehouse College, and Jonathan Dudley, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular genetic pathology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, argued that abortion supporters should employ ethics to undercut the pro-life position. They went so far as to propose a few “ethical arguments” of their own – arguments rife with fallacies.


That’s because the pro-life stance is a solid one: Life is precious, and abortion intentionally destroys the life of an innocent human being.

Nobis and Dudley got one thing right though. Abortion activists overwhelmingly fail to challenge the pro-life position and instead distract with side arguments.

Pro-life Americans “will often reply with an argument like this,” they wrote: “Fetuses are innocent human beings with the right to life, and—since it's always wrong to kill innocent human beings—abortion is murder and should be illegal, with few exceptions.”

They called out the Catholic Church, evangelical Christians, and pro-life organizations for taking this position.

While “abortion generally is not murder,” Nobis and Dudley summarized, “the ethical arguments given to try to establish this are demonstrably weak.”

They posed two separate arguments to try to prove their point.

“To better recognize the flaws in the core ethical argument against abortion, it is useful to consider two far less controversial medical procedures that also end the lives of human beings,” they wrote. “These cases provide insights into some of the core content of pro-choice ethics education.”

But there was a problem in their premise: unlike abortion, neither of the two cases that they presented centered on “procedures” intended to end lives.

“First, in every U.S. state and most countries, if a person elects to be an organ donor, their organs can be removed for transplant when that person suffers complete brain death—even if their body is still alive,” they argued. “Organ harvesting involves cutting living human beings open and their organs being removed one-by-one until, at last, the heart is detached and the human being dies, having been directly killed by the procedure.”


There’s at least one big difference here: Brain death is irreversible, with no chance of recovery. An unborn baby is just beginning his or her life – and, more often than not, is perfectly healthy. 

Another distinction: Nobis and Dudley themselves admitted that someone must “elect” to be an organ donor and give consent. An unborn baby does not.

They also assumed that their readers believe a person who is brain dead is still “alive” and can be “killed” – something that’s highly debatable, perhaps on both sides of the abortion debate.

The two missed the flaws in their argument.

“What this shows is that most people recognize that it's not always wrong to kill human beings,” the two argued, “even when those human beings are considered ‘innocent.’”

Or does it? Pro-lifers already know that it’s not always wrong to kill human beings. Instead, it’s wrong to commit an action with the sole purpose and intent to end the life of an innocent human being.

A successful organ transplant results in saving a life; a successful abortion results in ending one. The first is a gift from someone who is legally dead. The other destroys someone whose life has just begun.

For their second example, Nobis and Dudley brought up “anencephalic infants, or babies born with severely undeveloped brains.”

“These babies usually do not live long,” they said, “and the widely accepted medical practice is to let these infants die, providing palliative care only, even though they could be kept alive by a machine. This ends their lives, but it is not wrong.”


But there’s a problem here too: allowing someone to die who cannot recover is not the same as willfully ending someone’s life with a violent action – an action like abortion.

“[N]ot all human beings have a right to life that trumps all other considerations,” they concluded. “It is not always wrong to end the lives of even innocent human beings, if they lack what would make ending their lives wrong.”

But even with their examples, the pro-life position still stands: To act with the sole intention of ending the lives of innocent human beings is wrong.

Nobis and Dudley did anticipate some challenges to their argument.

Some say unborn babies “have lives, or potential lives, before them, and so have rights to those lives,” the two admitted. “And they are ‘innocent’ too.”

From there, they delved into a tangled argument: That to be “innocent” and have a future assumes that a fetus is a person.

They agreed, “since organ donation practices and how anencephalic newborns are treated is not wrong, we can conclude that these human beings are not persons: if they were persons, ending their lives would be wrong.” 

Fetuses are not persons, they claimed, because “they too lack consciousness-enabling brains.”

And what is a “consciousness-enabling brain”? At week 6, an unborn baby’s brain is already developing, medical experts say. On the other end, there are medical publications suggesting that babies aren’t consciously aware until between 12 and 15 months after birth. Would Nobis and Dudley argue that newborns aren’t persons either? 


“So, is abortion murder?” they asked at the end. “Not unless other widely-accepted medical procedures that end human life are also wrong. But they aren't, and neither is abortion.”

In attempting to tear down the common strawmen raised up by their fellow abortion supporters, Nobis and Dudley, it seems, have constructed a few of their own.

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