I’ve grown up in a culture where abortion is commonplace. Furthermore, I risk being branded as intolerant, immoral, or worse for questioning this practice. Be that as it may, I’ve never clearly understood the logic of abortion. Why, in Canada, is it morally acceptable to terminate a normal pregnancy but morally unacceptable to euthanize a healthy happy two-year old girl? The answer escapes me, and I suspect it escapes you too.
I take it that I share certain values with my fellow citizens, the foremost being that,
(1) It is morally wrong to end a human life without adequate justification.
Indeed, Canada is a society without capital punishment. We don’t consider ourselves competent to end a human life after a fair trial (or perhaps we think no trial could ever produce the needed justification to kill). This doesn’t make us pacifists. We have police who will use lethal force provided they can justify their actions. We also employ our military if need be in defense of our values and interests. But there is always reluctance. Ending a human life is serious business. Doing so without adequate justification is inconceivable to Canadians.
When it comes to abortion, however, it seems clear to me that in Canada people widely believe,
(2) It is not morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy without adequate justification.
Somebody correct me if I’m reading the culture wrong here. As I understand it, a woman’s “right-to-choose” is taken to be sacred by many Canadians. To morally require adequate justification for terminating a pregnancy would clearly violate this widespread Canadian value.
Putting these two beliefs together, it becomes clear that, to Canadians, ending a human life is not in the same category as terminating a pregnancy. Lacking adequate justification, one is morally permitted; the other is not. It follows, then, that Canadians have committed themselves to believing,
(3) Terminating a pregnancy is not the same thing as ending a human life.
Since ending a human life and terminating a pregnancy both amount to ending life of some sort, it is clear that many Canadians actually believe,
(4) An unborn life is not a human life.
This is the logical outcome of our thinking. But is it true?
What am I?
Consider an additional Canadian value. I take it that most Canadians would agree that,
(5) Ben Nasmith is a human being.
Anyone who denies this properly risks being charged with a hate-crime. Some sort of discrimination has occurred if I am not to be regarded as a full human being (racism, sexism, elitism, etc.). To deny that I am human is the pinnacle of intolerance, the cardinal Canadian sin.
That being said, how can my status as a human being be reconciled with the status of the unborn? There must be a morally relevant difference between the unborn and myself to sustain our accepted values. Let’s take a look.
The unborn are smaller than I am. So what? Canadians come in all shapes and sizes. Size doesn’t determine humanity. Indeed, I have personally been a variety of sizes during my life! I may yet grow (wider perhaps). Presumably smaller people are people too. Clearly size is irrelevant to being human.
Level of Development
The unborn are less physically, mentally, and emotionally developed than I am. So what? My young children are also less developed than I am. They’re still human. Is there a specific level of development at which one becomes human? Not as far as I know. After all, we view newborns as human and they are just as developed as they were a moment prior to birth. Furthermore, we regard the mentally and physical handicapped as humans. Clearly, level of development does not determine humanity.
The unborn are in the womb; I am not. So what? I travel from time to time. As far as I know my being human isn’t a function of my physical location. If the unborn aren’t human, and the rest of us are, then something mystical must happen during their journey down the birth canal such that they become human. But why think that is the case? My 4 litre carton doesn’t become “Milk” just because I took it out of the refrigerator. It was Milk in the fridge and it’s still Milk outside the fridge. If there’s a morally relevant difference between the unborn and I, we must find it elsewhere.
Degree of Dependency
The unborn depend on their mother’s body to survive; I no longer do. So what? We all depend on others to varying degrees at varying times. For instance, I’m quite certain that many urbanites (myself included) could not survive in the wild for long. We depend on farmers and groceries. It’s called society. Dependence on another does not negate humanity; it is inevitable and normal. We all have and all will continue to depend on others to survive.
The emperor has no clothes
I submit that mainstream Canadian values face a glaring inconsistency when it comes to abortion and justice. We cannot both uphold my human rights and avoid the rights of the unborn without maintaining that the unborn are not human. The trilemma here is a) rights for both, b) rights for none, or c) produce a morally relevant difference between the unborn and the rest of us. I challenge anyone to produce such a difference.
In the meantime, it’s a) or b). Since we’ve as yet been unwilling to regard the unborn as human, I maintain that if the unborn aren’t human then neither am I.
 The SLED acronym is taken from Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 28.