With these preliminary points established, let’s now consider how we might answer some common objections.
Pro-lifers are anti-science. Our first response should be to ask, What is it exactly about the pro-life position that conflicts with established science? No cogent answer is likely to be forthcoming. The biological facts about human reproduction are well established and entirely consistent with pro-life arguments. The scientific literature is unanimous in affirming that human life begins at the point of conception, when male and female gametes combine to form a new organism with its own set of chromosomes. The embryo is alive, human, and genetically distinct from his or her parents: it is a new human individual, male or female, at the earliest stages of life.
It is sometimes thought that the pro-life view is unscientific because it assumes that the human embryo has an immaterial soul, a claim that cannot be proven scientifically. The Bible certainly affirms that humans have a soul as well as a body (Matt. 10:28). But pro-life arguments don’t depend on any such assumption. It is enough to recognize that a new human life begins at conception.
A fetus isn’t a person until it develops a brain and becomes conscious. Brains and consciousness don’t appear overnight. They develop gradually over many months and even beyond the point of birth. There’s no determinate point at which one can say, “Now it’s a person!” Moreover, consciousness isn’t necessary for personhood; for example, a comatose patient is still a person with full human rights.
Pro-life arguments are religious, but religion should be kept out of public policy. On the contrary, the pro-life case doesn’t have to rely on religious premises. Consider this argument: (1) It is immoral to intentionally take an innocent human life. (2) Abortion intentionally takes an innocent human life. (3) Therefore, abortion is immoral. Someone with no religious convictions could find such an argument persuasive. Indeed, the existence of several atheist pro-life groups shows how misguided this objection is.
I’m personally pro-life, but we shouldn’t impose our moral views on others. The superficiality of this stance can be illustrated by applying the same principle to other matters of basic justice. For instance: “I’m personally against infanticide, but we shouldn’t impose our moral views on others.” Everyone thinks that some practices are so immoral and destructive that they ought to be prohibited by law. The question is whether abortion is one of those practices.
The state shouldn’t legislate morality. This objection is as misguided as the previous one. All legislation is motivated and justified on the basis of moral principles. Doesn’t the state legislate against murder, sexual assault, theft, and libel? Not every immoral action should be illegal. But shouldn’t any intentional killing of an innocent human be prohibited by law?
The state should take a neutral stance. Some argue that the government shouldn’t take sides in this debate, but that’s clearly impossible in practice. While abortion is legal, the government is implicitly taking a “pro-choice” position. Should the state adopt a neutral stance toward infanticide and slavery as well? Should the government protect people’s freedom to kill their toddlers and keep slaves if they so choose?
Abortion rights is a gender-equality issue. The argument here is that the consequences of conception are far more burdensome for women than for men. Men can walk away from a pregnancy; women can’t. Therefore, to level the field, women should be free to end their pregnancies at any time. While the premise of the argument is true, it doesn’t follow that abortion is a morally acceptable way of removing the disparity between men and women. The argument completely ignores the moral rights of a third party in the situation—the child in the mother’s womb—and it could be easily extended to justify infanticide.
Women have absolute rights over their bodies. While all people have certain rights over their own bodies, the false assumption is that a baby is merely a body part of its mother, like one of her limbs or organs. That’s biologically confused. The baby is an individual human with a genetic identity distinct from his or her mother and all her body parts. The unborn child is attached to the mother and dependent on her for life, but the fetus isn’t a part of his or her mother. A mother’s rights do not include the freedom to kill her own child.