Answering a More Sophisticated Defense of Abortion - Part 1
I think it is important, for those who are against abortion, to interact with those of opposing viewpoints. We really do need to humbly and intelligently deal with the actual criticisms of those who support abortion. We can't always preach to the choir. If we want abortion-supporters to change their minds, their questions and arguments must be faced head on and answered, and not ignored.
My own concern to better understand and address the pro-abortion position led to a search for books on Amazon. I came across a book simply titled: A Defense of Abortion, by David Boonin, published in 2003 by Cambridge University Press. It was a recent book, published by an academically credible publisher, so I thought I should read it. The author is a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, formerly of Tulane, and has taught courses on the ethics of abortion. The book itself attempts to defend abortion as a morally permissible practice. It's central thesis: "the moral case against abortion can be shown to be unsuccessful on terms that critics of abortion can, and already do, accept" (2). In other words, Boonin aims to prove that even if certain anti-abortion premises are granted (e.g., "you and I have the right to life"), the practice of abortion can yet be demonstrated to be morally permissible.
As far as I can tell, the author is very intelligent and has made genuine attempts to understand the pro-life position (and even variants of the pro-life position). Even though I have only made it through the first chapter, the book appears to be thoughtful and well-researched. However, he makes clear from the very beginning the full implications of where his book leads. After discussing photographs from the childhood of his son Eli, he writes: "In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clear enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point" (xiv).
This quotation reveals the author's dual belief in the personhood (in some sense) of his 24-week old son and in the conviction that there would have been nothing wrong with ending his life at that point. It is important for us to recognize that Boonin fully grants that abortion ends a real life (something most casual abortion defenders refuse to admit). Nevertheless, he still believes abortion to be morally permissible. This stance, when intelligently articulated, can present a challenge for pro-lifers. It would be easy to answer his arguments if he were calling his 24-week son a "non-person," "non-entity," "non-human," but he doesn't do that. He has come to terms with the fact that at 24 weeks his son was indeed a real life, a developing human, yet he still argues that there is nothing immoral about ending that life.
While Boonin's position is not representative of the everyday "pro-choicer" on the street, it is one we must be prepared to respond to just the same. Thus, over the next few months, we will discuss Boonin's book as we become better equipped to deal with some of the more sophisticated arguments in the modern abortion debate.