At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture


The Case Against Abortion

posted by Jack Kerwick

The standard argument against abortion relies upon the language of “rights”: All human beings have a “right to life,” the unborn is a human being, thus, the unborn have a “right to life.”  For at least two reasons, this argument fails to perform the task to which it has been assigned.

First, the notion of “rights” that are supposed to be universally distributed throughout the human species is dubious. More than a few thinkers, including Christian thinkers at that, have seconded Jeremy Bentham’s sentiment that the idea of “natural rights” is “nonsense on stilts.”  There can be no question that, its truth or cogency aside, the doctrine of “natural” or “human rights” has kept its defenders busy with no small supply of problems with which to grapple.

Second, even on the assumption of the truth of this argument’s premises, the conclusion simply does not follow.  The knowledge that so-and-so is a human being with a “right to life” is, by itself, insufficient to proscribe any action short of “unjustified killing.”  Yet whether abortion is unjustified killing is precisely the question that needs to be settled; it can’t be supposed or else the argument is reduced to an exercise in question-begging.

Abortion is an evil, we can be sure of that, but we needn’t avail ourselves of the abstract universalism of the rights theorist to realize this fact.  There are reasons much closer to home that convict us of the wrongness of abortion while at once exposing the superfluity of rights reasoning. 

I am far from denying that there are cross-cultural and trans-historical principles of morality that can be abstracted from those points at which the world’s moral traditions intersect; but the only moral education worth speaking of, the education whereby virtue and duty are not taught, but imparted, is always a particular affair. Morality requires, not the impartiality demanded of the doctrine of “human rights,” but a partiality without which the relationships constitutive of the moral life would be impossible.  The moral experience is concrete, not abstract, and while morality is an intelligent engagement, it is not an exercise in “naked Reason,” but a matter of habit and feeling—or “prejudice,” as Burke put it.    

Now, the parent-child relationship is the most durable of all human relationships, the one relationship least susceptible to the contingencies that all too often threaten to ruin every other.  There is a bond between parent and child that, especially on the parent’s part, isn’t so much acquired as it is spontaneous—or at least this is what it feels like.  I recall that when my wife and I were expecting our son, a receptionist at the office of my wife’s doctor told us: “You will be amazed at how much love you will instantly feel for that baby who you don’t even know!” And she was right. It is not for nothing that the dominant metaphor for God’s love for humanity is parental love.

In fact, this love of parent for child begins before the former even meets the latter.  This explains why miscarriages are experienced as tragedies.  Notice, when a woman miscarries, no one so much as thinks to lament that God, nature, or circumstances conspired to “terminate the pregnancy”; neither is she consoled for having lost “the fetus.”  Her situation is perceived, by herself and others, as tragic, because she lost “the baby.

To permit the ontological standing of this prenatal being to depend on the desires and attachments of the parent is not only incoherent, it is morally repugnant.  But in allowing for elective abortion, we accommodate just such an arrangement.  This type of abortion is worse than the government-mandated abortion of, say, China; at least in China it is strangers who order the deaths of the unborn.  We, on the other hand, sanction the morally inconceivable in allowing, not faceless bureaucrats, but mothers to visit lethal violence upon the very wombs that nature itself designed for sheltering and nourishing the tiny, powerless lives growing within them.

Neither war nor the death penalty nor euthanasia promise to eviscerate a peoples’ sense of the sanctity of human life like abortion, for abortion alone is an immediate assault against the one human love that strikes us as being, not an acquisition, but a dispensation of nature.  The one fine line between civilization and barbarism is the parent: it is through the love, care, and education provided by the parent that the child is civilized.  There is, then, no surer way to facilitate the decline of civilization itself than to not only permit parents to destroy their children, but to do all that can be done to convince them that this is one of their “human rights.”    

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.



  • http://just Pat

    gOD SAY’S THAT HE PLANTS THE SEED,THERE ARE SO MANY YOUNG PEOPLE,THAT THEY DON’T KNOW THE TRUTH,tHEY TOOK PRAYER OUT OF SACHOOL,AND PUT SEX EDUCATION IN. NOW WE LOST A GENERATION TO THIS,GIVES THE YOUNG ONES PREMISSION TO HAVE SEX AND YOUNG MOTHERS GET SCAREDBECAUSE THERE IS GOD THERE AND IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A FEAR,BUT NOT TO THE POINT OF MURDER,THAT’S AGAINTS GOD WORD. THAT’S AS A OLDER PERSON HAS SEEN STILL SEEING THINGS I DID NOT J=KNOW.GOD HAVE MERCY ON THIER SOULS.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment g

    http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html

    Statistics from this site.

    Seems apparent that many Christians don’t agree with your views.

    “Who’s having abortions (religion)?
    Women identifying themselves as Protestants obtain 37.4% of all abortions in the U.S.; Catholic women account for 31.3%, Jewish women account for 1.3%, and women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions. 18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as “Born-again/Evangelical”.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment andrea levin

    You don’t get it, do you, Dr. Kerwick?

    First of all (re: your June 2, 1:37 pm comment), spare your readers the rhetorical trick of (pseudo-) moral equivalence: there is none here, and you know it.

    Do you know Hebrew? If not- and Patsy, Kreeze, and Judy clearly do not- you really have nothing to contribute in this matter.

    As the late Sister Delmonica once said on her ETW cable program, “you can read the Bible for yourself, but it doesn’t matter what you think it means, the (Catholic) Church will tell you what it is supposed to say”- admitting that dogma (social policy preferences) comes first, and veracity to Scripture’s textual meaning second.

    If you want to run your religion that way, that is your preference; but when you then proceed to try to shove those views down other people’s throats (in a Republic in which the word “God” does not appear in the Constitution, to boot!) as the will of God,
    then you play both the hypocrite and the liar; and myself and other intellectually honest people like Peter and Duff will call you out on it.

    Agree with the text of Scripture or discard it, but don’t disfigure it. The Catholic Church’s views on the status of fetus and conception derive from Plato – not Moses or Jeremiah or Ezra. That is the fact of the matter. And if you think Plato was right and the Hebrews got it wrong, that is your prerogative. But at least be candid about it. And don’t bear false witness in this matter.

    Glory to God.

  • http://www.jackkerwick.com Jack Kerwick

    Peter, Mr. Duff,

    So, those with whom you disagree over Scripture are imposing their “policy preferences” upon it, but you and those with whom you agree understand it as God does?

    Ok, right, got it.

    Jack

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dirk

    Dear Judy opines that “Jesus became flesh in the womb of Mary, an unwed mother, thereby sanctifying in utero human life …

    Of course, and the sun stood still at Jericho!

    Seriously, by the same token: Judas became flesh in the womb of his mother, thereby polluting in utero human life…

    Invoking Irenaeus’ notion of ‘recapitulation,’ and the idea of matter and anti-matter, the one myth cancels the other out!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment peter f. batista

    Patsy, Kreeze, Dr. Kerwick :

    You are entitled to your social policy preferences, but NOT to portray them as the will of God when they clearly contradict the plain sense of His written Word.

    It is the Bible which speaks for God, not the bunch of you.

    Way to go, Mr. Duff!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cardenal

    Simeon is correct: Patsy, Kreeze, et al claim that an “unborn child” has the same status as a child who has been born.

    So why the unequal treatment? One merits a gift and the other does not?

    Such a stance lacks integrity and consistency!

  • http://www.jackkerwick.com Jack Kerwick

    David,

    Anytime you would like to return to this site, please do so. But as I made clear in “Caution: Misology Free Zone,” insults are banned from this blog.

    Jack

  • http://www.jackkerwick.com Jack Kerwick

    J. Danick,

    While I really do appreciate the fact that of all of the blogs that you could’ve graced with your brilliance, you chose mine, I no longer tolerate insults here. See yesterday’s “Caution: Misology Free-Zone.” I welcome you back, but keep it civil (and, thus, thoughtful).

    Jack

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment j.c. duff

    Kerwick, Kreeze, Judy, Patsy:

    your subjective feelings on this subject are beside the point (and are of no significance, except, perhaps, to your therapist).

    What is important is the Divine Will, which has been communicated to the prophets in Scripture. God has ONLY spoken to mankind in a Semitic language: Hebrew, Aramaic (or, for that matter, for Muslims, Arabic).

    Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate) renditions DO NOT COUNT as canon.

    Semitic Scripture, in its normative (legal) formulation, allows abortions in certain circumstances. End of discussion.

    Keep in mind: Hitler was anti-abortion. Is he the poster boy for your position?

    If all of you don’t like abortions – fine: then don’t have one.
    But don’t seek to impose your Scripturally unsound views on every body else.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment j.r., trp

    ah, Patsy- you embody your name:

    1. the original Hebrew reads “miscarriage,” not “give birth prematurely.”
    DON’T try to ARROGANTLY twist God’s words through mistranslation!

    2. the harm that is talked about, concerns the WOMAN, of which the baby is considered an appendage. HER life has fully value; a fetus does not.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Patsy

    Simeon….giving presents to ‘unborn’ children…surely you jest Sir.
    Do you have children and if so, did you wait until after they were born to buy them anything…anything at all…this statement is just stupid.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Patsy

    J.R trp wrote:


    The fetus is something but not a full human being. It has property value and potential as life; but, in and of itself, is not life. And thus, ABORTION IS NOT MURDER (let alone ” an evil,” as Kerwick foolishly contends) —it is, at best, a TORT issue.”

    I fought the urge to scream when I read this post by you as I saw yet another person trying to distort scripture to prove their unscriptural point. I take issue with your comments Sir… The scriptures you refer to are to be found in Exodus 21:22 and read thus…

    “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe”.

    Since you are unclear as to what this is saying let me put it in the Queens’ english for you Sir.

    If two men fight and one strikes a pregnant woman and she goes into labour and her BABY is born prematurely and all else is ok, then the man must pay whatsoever the judges determine is right according to the punishment imposed by her husband. Case one.

    But…do you see the but Sir, IF harm to that BABY follows then his punishment will be determined by the degree of harm caused Sir. Even to the degree of death for him should that child die.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kreeez

    David Edman ~~> Did you even read what I wrote? Please don’t post anything else. you make no sense. Indigenous people don’t trump the word of God. J.R’s Bible story refernce has NOTHING TO DO WITH ABORTION. that’s the point I was making you simple Sam from the rural south, DAVID.

    J. Dunce-ick ~~~> Furthermore anyone who makes the argument that unborn children don’t receive Christmas presents therefore they aren’t really children; are the DEFINITION OF FOOLISH. People who support abortion as a form of birth control only try to defend the poor decisions of their past (i.e. they had an abortion themselves). It is self righteousness at it very core.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment simeon

    Dr. Kerwick, Judy, Kreeze:

    do you believe that children should receive Christmas presents?

    if so, do you give presents to ‘unborn children’ ?

    I’ll bet you don’t; and if not, that makes you are a bona-fide hypocrite!

    check and mate!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Judy

    Jesus became flesh in the womb of Mary, an unwed mother, thereby sanctifying in utero human life in a concrete way that was not as clear in the Torah. However, the prophet Jeremiah felt called “from his mother’s womb,” and the embryonic John the Baptist “leapt for joy” in his mother’s womb in the presence of the embryonic Jesus. I believe that God has a plan for each individual life conceived. As with all sin, we can follow God’s ways and commands – which lead to life- or try our own path – which leads to death. Even though it seems to me the truest justification of law is protection of the innocent, I do believe the ultimate answer to the end of elective abortion is conversion to Christ! Also, if “Christians” would at last say “no” to having abortions themselves, legal abortion would be greatly reduced! I say this a mother who has helped two of my four daughters through unplanned, unwed pregnancies which have resulted in beautiful, beloved grandchildren (not that unwe3d pregnancies are God’s perfect plan!). And by the way, both daughters are now married to wonderful husbands, have college degrees, and are doing great, having learned important lessons from their experience! So I know whereof I speak when I talk about God’s way leading to life!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kreeez

    J.R.~~> What a ridiculous argument. A woman caught between two men fighting? Hardly an example of choosing to end a pregnancy! Here’s a REAL argument. The natives of Papua New Guinea have only recently heard the good news of Jesus Christ. When the missionaries told some groups of them (there are dozens if not hundreds of languages on the island)that a movement called athiesm was huge in the rest of the world they could not believe that human beings believe in NO GOD. Also when they mentioned that the world has ‘abortions’ the women couldn’t truly believe what the missionaries were telling them! they said, ‘You mean these women did not want their own children?’ It is insane, even the isolated cultures of the world have a sense of morality and spirituality.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment buzz korn

    Kerwick: for your doctoral thesis on Michael Oakeshott at 3rd-rate university Temple, how much did you crib from Andrew Sullivan’s thesis on that same subect from first-rate university Harvard?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment J.R., trp

    Once again, Kerwick shows himself to be a Biblical- ansd theological- ignoramus. (and anti-Semite?, as a previous poster has demonstrated)

    As a friend of mine has written:

    The only choices are NOT between fetuses having no rights at all—being “a parasite to be eradicated”—and it being sacred and inviolable.

    There is, indeed, a middle ground in the abortion debate between the rhetorical extremes of the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” camps.

    It is called classic Judaism, and derived from the Torah, Holy Scripture!

    The only cogent scriptural text on this issue is the legal one in Exodus 21, which recounts an incident in which a pregnant woman, caught in the middle of a fight between two men, is struck and miscarries. The culprit pays a monetary fine for his action: If the fetus were considered a full human being, he would have been charged with murder. (And since it would be viewed as involuntary, the culprit would be required to flee to a city of refuge.) If the fetus was worthless, he would get off only with punishment for striking the woman.

    In short, the Torah takes a middle view on this matter, which is the position upheld by rabbinic tradition: The fetus is something but not a full human being. It has property value and potential as life; but, in and of itself, is not life. And thus, ABORTION IS NOT MURDER (let alone ” an evil,” as Kerwick foolishly contends) —it is, at best, a TORT issue.

    (Indeed, in Jewish law, when the mother’s life is medically at stake, abortion is not merely allowed, but actually required.)

    I would argue that the majority of Americans, pragmatic as ever, prefer something more along the lines of such a nuanced middle view, and not the either/or dichotomy in which the debate is usually framed by extremists on both sides.

    Borrowing an architectural metaphor, think of it this way: A blueprint is by no means the same as a finished bricks-and-mortar edifice, but, on the other hand, neither is it a worthless piece of paper.

    Note, also: Neither Jesus nor Paul addressed this issue, so, for Christians, the only direct, explicit Biblical optic on this subject is that explicated above. Other positions may well be deeply felt, magisterial or otherwise “religious,” but, as such, they are read into, and imposed upon, the Bible, not objectively derived from it. Jeremiah 1:5, for example, is sheer hyperbole and nothing more. Furthermore, for the Hebrew Bible, and especially the Torah given to Moses at Mount Sinai, law is the authoritative form of divine expression, not poetry. Hence, it is the 10 Commandments, not the 10 Odes.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Crystie Cook

    If life truly is confined to a measurable space of time between birth and death, then the “right” to elective abortion, is at best, still based on selfish motives. If life has its beginnings somewhere other than mortal life, which I believe it does, then I would respectfully like to ask those who constantly identify abortion as a legitimate way to reduce poverty and so-called misery–what if the children who have been aborted or are currently being aborted would have grown up to help eradicate poverty and misery? It’s an answer that cannot be given, because the only way to answer it has been eliminated.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kreeez

    REV Paulina~~> Congress does not consist of all men. As I do agree with you that Contraceptives are the solution to abortion, Planned Parenthood should not be the answer. If you’re telling me it is, then you’re also implying that people are to stupid or ‘uninformed’ to get birth control and condoms for themselves. With all of the sex education I got growing up in the 90′s, all I wasn’t taught was how to get a girl undressed and into my bedroom (joking of course). The fact of the matter is I have seen my friends in highschool and college use abortion as a form of birth control and it is disgusting. You wanna know how I kept myself out of that situation? I CHOSE not to have sex in highschool. At 25, I put myself into that very situation that I am strongly against. I got my girlfriend pregnant and we chose to work it out together and not kill the child. I now have a wonderful wife and 3 year old son. Paulina, lemme guess. You are a Methodist or Episcipal minister? You certainly are not Catholic or Baptist. Shame on you

  • http://www.jackkerwick.com Jack Kerwick

    How does what idea reconcile with the Founding Fathers’ vision, Don?

  • http://www.jackkerwick.com Jack Kerwick

    “Sanctimonious tripe?” You have already engaged in the argument, sir, but perhaps you don’t recognize this because of the abysmal quality of your reasoning. The issues to which you allude are red herrings: focus on the issue at hand. And your name calling is also a species of defective argumentation.

    Finally, while I thank you much for reading, if you prefer to avoid this argument until such time as your utopian, leftist fantasies become a reality, then do so.

    Jack

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment (Rev)Paulina K. Dennis

    The most important right any woman has is control of her reproductive history, which is why abortion should stay legal. The ignorant touting of banning “late term abortion,” is bandied around by a bunch of “lawmakers” who have little or no experience with women in general (except for their own wives and daughters). The obvious solution to “abortion” is contraception, and training in use of contraception. However, not only are these “extremists” in the Congress now (all men, it must be noted) against family planning; their destructive verbal guns are now trained on Planned Parenthood, the best of the group who try to help ALL women with this business of contraception, reproductive health, and family planning. Who suffers most from this? Uneducated young women, white and black. Come on down south, and see it for yourself. What a future for both these young women and their babies! Eternal poverty, for the most part, and deliberately meant to provoke just that outcome.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Don Hamme

    How does this idea reconcile with the Founding Fathers concept that we are all endowed with Life, Liberty, and Persuit of Happiness? How can the government that was founded on these precepts deny them when speaking of abortion?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment K Hegemann

    This is so much blather. Human beings have aborted fetuses since the beginning of time. The reasons are numerous from not enough food to take care of those already born to trying to survive the trials of war. When we war no more, see no more hunger and starvation, end capital punishment, stop destroying this small planet, no longer need law enforcement to carry deadly weapons, and have economic and social justice for all, I’ll engage in this argument. Until then, keep your sanctimonious tripe to yourself and your hands off the wombs of those who actually bear children.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dave Mason Sr.

    Well said!

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