Three questions about abortion to ask before you vote
As Election Day approaches, a lot of people are talking about abortion, and many will consider the issue when they cast their ballot. Voting is a responsibility that each of us ought to take very seriously. Here are three crucial questions to ask before you go to the polls.
Is she a human being?
Abortion ends the life of a human embryo or fetus. Is that embryo or fetus a human being—a living member of our species? This is a question answered by science.
“Fertilization is a critical landmark,” explains the textbook Human Embryology & Teratology, because “a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.”
If all goes well, that distinct human organism, or human being, develops herself through the many stages of life. That’s what each one of us has done. We were once embryos and then fetuses before we were infants and toddlers and teenagers.
The embryo or fetus, then, is the same kind of being as we are. She is a human being—living and growing rapidly as a young member of our human family.
Does she have a right to live?
The next question is this: How should we treat this unborn human being? Does she have a right to live—a right not to be intentionally killed through abortion?
There are two basic views about the scope of human rights. The first view says that rights belong only to human beings who have particular characteristics or abilities. If unborn humans don’t meet those criteria, then they don’t count. But this approach is both exclusive and inegalitarian.
It’s exclusive because it doesn’t just exclude embryos and fetuses—it excludes other vulnerable humans as well. Many abortion defenders say that certain mental capacities are necessary in order to have rights. If that’s true, then patients in temporary comas and people with advanced dementia don’t qualify.
This view is inegalitarian, too, because it doesn’t make sense of equality for anyone. If cognitive functions confer our rights, then those of us with greater cognitive abilities have a stronger right to live than those of us with lesser ones. We aren’t equal. Some people are just more valuable than others.
The second view of human rights, by contrast, is both inclusive and egalitarian. It says that rights belong to human beings simply because they are human beings. That means that all humans have rights—no matter how young or dependent or marginalized—and they have equal rights because they are equally human.
If all humans matter, then the unborn human being matters. And the pregnant woman does too. This is why both mother and child deserve our respect, protection, and care.
Will I vote to protect her?
Now we get to the final question. Justice requires that society protect the basic rights of innocent human beings. But legalized abortion excludes a whole class of humans from such protection. It denies their human rights and exposes them to lethal violence. And that violence happens on an industrial scale.
Can we do something to affect our abortion laws? Yes, we can. The candidates we elect to public office will shape our laws and policies—for better or for worse. We can use our vote to make things better. We can use it to advance justice and compassion so that more unborn children are safeguarded, more pregnant women are empowered and supported, and more lives are saved.
Science tells us that the unborn child is a human being. Justice says that her human rights deserve protection. The only remaining question is this: Will we vote accordingly?
This article appears in the October 2022 issue of NRL News.