If You Don’t Know Whether the Unborn is a Human Being, Then Don’t Kill It

By Alan Shlemon Published on June 13, 2023

On March 26, 2000, the city of Seattle detonated 5,800 dynamite charges and demolished the Kingdome, the stadium where the Seahawks and Mariners played. Hours before the explosives team reduced the stadium to rubble, they asked a very simple question. Is there any person still inside the Kingdome? Here’s how the conversation did not take place:

Explosives supervisor: “Is anyone still inside the Kingdome?”

Explosives employee: “I don’t know.”

Explosives supervisor: “Well, let’s proceed anyway. Detonate the charges, and demolish the stadium to the ground.”

That wouldn’t make any sense. In fact, it would be reckless and foolish. If someone was still inside the stadium, they would be killed.

There’s a very simple and obvious principle at work. If you’re unsure whether your action might kill an innocent human being, then the proper decision is to hold off. First verify that no one will die by your hand, and then proceed.

Reckless and Foolish Reasoning

That’s why I’m mystified by a congressman’s recent statement. Talking about abortion, he wrote,

For the first 12 hours after fertilization, the fertilized egg remains a single cell. Is that a human being? I don’t know. But I do know this: that decision should be made by the woman, not by MAGA Republican politicians or religious zealot judges.

If he honestly doesn’t know whether the unborn is a human being after fertilization, then how can he champion abortion? It’s possible he could be defending the legalized killing of vulnerable human beings who can’t speak for themselves. Worse, he’s turning over the decision to pregnant women who might be motivated to procure an abortion. Does he believe pregnant women know the answer to the question he’s unsure about?

Genuine uncertainty about the status of the unborn should result in a cautious approach, not in blazing forward with increased abortion rights.

You would never reason this way on the matter of slavery. “Is a slave a human being? I don’t know. But I do know this: that decision should be made by the plantation owner.” If you don’t know whether a slave is a human or not, then you shouldn’t let a plantation owner decide since they might be very motivated to enslave human beings. Either a slave is a human being, in which case slavery should be outlawed, or a slave is not a human being, and slavery can be permitted. What doesn’t make sense is to claim you don’t know the answer and then make a law that permits slavery. By legalizing slavery, you are, in effect, saying slaves are not human beings.

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In the same way, by allowing abortion, the congressman is, in effect, saying the unborn are not human beings. But if that’s the case, it doesn’t make sense for him to say he “doesn’t know” about the status of the unborn.

You Have Three Options, Congressman Lieu

Here are his options:

Option 1: He can claim he doesn’t know whether the unborn is a human being. Therefore, he should petition to make abortion illegal until the truth is discovered.

Option 2: He can claim he does know the unborn is a human being. Therefore, he should petition to make abortion illegal for the same reason it’s illegal to kill a two-month-old or a two-year-old.

Option 3: He can claim he does know the unborn is not a human being. If he’s correct, then abortion can remain permissible.

If he chooses Option 3, however, he must present evidence that supports his view. The burden of proof rests with him for two reasons. One, he needs to provide compelling and definitive evidence that the unborn is not a human being because otherwise he could be advocating for the killing of innocent and vulnerable people. Two, there is a mountain of evidence (from science and philosophy) that the unborn, from the first moments of his or her existence, is a human being (with which even stalwart abortion rights defenders like David Boonin and Peter Singer agree). Whatever evidence he provides must overturn the scientific data and philosophical reasoning for the full humanity of the unborn.

Since he claims he doesn’t know, he should hold off on permitting and promoting abortion. Genuine uncertainty about the status of the unborn should result in a cautious approach, not in blazing forward with increased abortion rights.

 

Alan Shlemon is an author and speaker for Stand to Reason. He trains Christians to share their convictions in a persuasive, yet gracious manner. He has been a guest on both radio and television, and has spoken to thousands of adults and students across the country at churches, conferences, and college campuses.

Article originally published at str.org. Reprinted with permission.

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