The horrific tragedy of Michelle Wilkins losing her unborn child exposes our intuitions on moral and judicial truths. The young Colorado woman, seven months pregnant, was attacked in March in a false Craigslist meet-up and left for dead after her unborn daughter, whom she named Aurora, was cut from her body.
Thankfully, Michelle survived the brutal attack. Sadly, her daughter did not. What makes this heartbreaking crime even more appalling is that according to Colorado law, there was only one victim in this attack. Yet our intuitions tell us that Aurora was also a victim. Religious belief is not required to see that the law should have acknowledged the taking of this unborn girl’s life. The same conclusion, by the same means, can be reached concerning all unborn human life.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I am a Christian and I believe that abortion, properly defined, is unjust. Even though I believe that coming to know God through Christ Jesus is the greatest good in life, I don’t believe affirming the Christian message, or any religious message, is required to see that abortion is wrong. All we need to see that abortion is unjust are our moral intuitions, the best scientific evidence, and logic.
Each of these criteria is summed up in the following syllogism:
- All innocent human beings should be afforded protections under the law.
- The unborn is an innocent human being.
- Therefore, the unborn should be afforded protections under the law.
Premise one is a moral intuition, premise two is application of the best scientific evidence, and the conclusion is what logically follows if premises one and two are true.
Premise One Is a Reliable Moral Intuition
When I say “moral intuition,” I am speaking of a cognitive faculty that allows us to immediately recognize injustice when it is witnessed. Contemporary philosophers call this category of belief a “properly basic belief.” These are foundational beliefs concerning the nature of reality. They are not beliefs that we infer from evidences or arguments, but immediately recognize and take for granted. To say a belief is “properly basic” is to say that the given belief is reasonable to take for granted.
A common example is the properly basic belief that the physical world is real and our physical senses are reliable. Philosophers will tell you there is no way to prove that you are not in the Matrix right now. There is no way to get outside of your physical senses to show that your physical senses are reliable. You just assume the world is really there and it is reasonable to believe so. We could not give a successful argument to prove the world is not an illusion. Yet we would rightly call someone who claimed we were living in the Matrix crazy, short of them providing us with a red pill, of course.
Just as our physical senses allow us to recognize there is a physical world out there, our moral senses allow us to recognize that all innocent human beings should be afforded protections under the law. The most basic protection anyone can be afforded is the right to live, since life is required to possess any other rights. The founders referred to the right to life of all human beings as a “self-evident” truth, meaning if you deny this premise, you are of unsound mind.
Yet history is admittedly full of unbalanced people who have tried to disqualify certain classes of human beings from this right to life. Skin color was a counterfeit criteria used to disqualify a class of human beings from their inalienable rights. “Jewishness” was another false criteria. We are right to ascribe madness to those skeptical of the intrinsic worth of all human beings. Abraham Lincoln used moral intuition and logic to show that color is not an adequate criteria. Today size, location, level of development, and degree of dependency are cited as reasons alienate our inalienable rights. The madness continues. Moral intuition is still a part of the remedy.
Pro-lifers Are the Ones Citing Science to Argue for Premise Two
It has been a common trope to create a false dichotomy between faith and science. Science is often believed to be the only reliable source of knowledge (which, by the way, is a very unscientific claim). Pro-choice proponents often try to categorize the pro-life position as a “religious belief” in an attempt to delegitimize it. Aside from this self-contradicting scientistic notion, it is actually the pro-life position that is consistently citing the best scientific evidence from biology and embryology.
From conception, an unborn child is a separate and whole living being of the species homo sapiens that is developing herself from within. If the unborn is not alive, an abortion would not be necessary. If the unborn is not a human being, what kind of being is it? This living organism has human parents and does not undergo a change of species at any point during her course of development. All this evidence points to the conclusion that the unborn is a human being from conception. Given the scientific evidence, secular persons should categorize the pro-life position as “anti-religious,” if anything.
The Logical Conclusion
The three-step argument I have presented is a syllogism. This is one of the most common forms of formal argument. Probably the most well-known argument presented as a syllogism is the following.
- All men are mortal.
- Socrates is a man.
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
If premises one and two are correct, the conclusion follows necessarily from deductive reasoning. The only way to deny the conclusion is to deny one of the premises or deny that your cognitive faculty for logic is reliable. Notice the argument presented for the protection for the unborn is the same formula given to argue for Socrates’ mortality. The same rules apply when confronting this argument for the legal protection of the unborn, and none of them necessitate accepting or rejecting religious belief.