Peter Kreeft’s lectures are bar-none, the best Catholic commentaries on each of their topics out there. He is witty, intelligent, and encompassing. I believe most of them can be found on iTunes, or at PeterKreeft.com. I stumbled across a summary of the points of one of the lectures, called The Apple Argument Against Abortion, that summarizes the abortion disagreement and why the pro-life position in unassailable. I will not replicate the entire thing here, but you should read it… For now, the argument from skepticism is enough:
The most likely response to [the above argument] will be the charge of dogmatism. How dare I pontificate with infallible certainty, and call all who disagree either mentally or morally challenged! All right, here is an argument even for the metaphysical skeptic, who would not even agree with my very first and simplest premise, that we really do know what some things really are, such as what an apple is. (It’s only after you are pinned against the wall and have to justify something like abortion that you become a skeptic and deny such a self-evident principle.)
Roe used such skepticism to justify a pro-choice position. Since we don’t know when human life begins, the argument went, we cannot impose restrictions. (Why it is more restrictive to give life than to take it, I cannot figure out.) So here is my refutation of Roe on its own premises, its skeptical premises: Suppose that not a single principle of this essay is true, beginning with the first one. Suppose that we do not even know what an apple is. Even then abortion is unjustifiable.
Let’s assume not a dogmatic skepticism (which is self-contradictory) but a skeptical skepticism. Let us also assume that we do not know whether a fetus is a person or not. In objective fact, of course, either it is or it isn’t (unless the Court has revoked the Law of Noncontradiction while we were on vacation), but in our subjective minds, we may not know what the fetus is in objective fact. We do know, however, that either it is or isn’t by formal logic alone.
A second thing we know by formal logic alone is that either we do or do not know what a fetus is. Either there is “out there,” in objective fact, independent of our minds, a human life, or there is not; and either there is knowledge in our minds of this objective fact, or there is not.
So, there are four possibilities:
The fetus is a person, and we know that;
The fetus is a person, but we don’t know that;
The fetus isn’t a person, but we don’t know that;
The fetus isn’t a person, and we know that.
What is abortion in each of these four cases?
In Case 1, where the fetus is a person and you know that, abortion is murder. First-degree murder, in fact. You deliberately kill an innocent human being.
In Case 2, where the fetus is a person and you don’t know that, abortion is manslaughter. It’s like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street at night or shooting toxic chemicals into a building that you’re not sure is fully evacuated. You’re not sure there is a person there, but you’re not sure there isn’t either, and it just so happens that there is a person there, and you kill him. You cannot plead ignorance. True, you didn’t know there was a person there, but you didn’t know there wasn’t either, so your act was literally the height of irresponsibility. This is the act Roe allowed.
In Case 3, the fetus isn’t a person, but you don’t know that. So abortion is just as irresponsible as it is in the previous case. You ran over the overcoat or fumigated the building without knowing that there were no persons there. You were lucky; there weren’t. But you didn’t care; you didn’t take care; you were just as irresponsible. You cannot legally be charged with manslaughter, since no man was slaughtered, but you can and should be charged with criminal negligence.
Only in Case 4 is abortion a reasonable, permissible, and responsible choice. But note: What makes Case 4 permissible is not merely the fact that the fetus is not a person but also your knowledge that it is not, your overcoming of skepticism. So skepticism counts not for abortion but against it. Only if you are not a skeptic, only if you are a dogmatist, only if you are certain that there is no person in the fetus, no man in the coat, or no person in the building, may you abort, drive, or fumigate.
This undercuts even our weakest, least honest escape: to pretend that we don’t even know what an apple is, just so we have an excuse for pleading that we don’t know what an abortion is.
I just searched google images for “Abortion” to find a cover photo for this post. UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, OOPS!