Dr. Christopher Kaczor's latest book argues against abortion through reason alone, without reference to the author's Catholic faith. But his inspiration in writing the book came from a canonized saint.
“Whenever St. Thomas Aquinas considered a question,” Kaczor told CNA, “he made sure to state the objections to his point of view as strongly as he could – so as to make his own answers even more compelling, even to those who initially disagreed.”
Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, sought to do the same in his book, “The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice.”
Many professional philosophers, he said, “are very clever, and have spent a great deal of energy and time defending the moral permissibility of abortion.”
Instead of appealing to religious authority or an instinctive sense of outrage, Kaczor has sought to examine the arguments for abortion with painstaking care – in order to point out flawed premises, logical inconsistencies, or absurd results.
“I appeal only to reason, science, and history in making a case that abortion is morally wrong,” he explained. “I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible. Over the course of about 10 years in writing this book, I tried to take into account every major argument given in favor of abortion and then to counter it.”
One of the arguments he counters is made by Professor David Boonin of the University of Colorado, in his book “A Defense of Abortion.” Boonin holds that it is wrong to kill most individuals because it thwarts their desire to live. Boonin denies the presence of any kind of “desire” before the 25th week of fetal development – and says, therefore, that abortion before this point cannot be an injustice.
But this argument, Kaczor said, would justify several things its proponents are unlikely to approve of – including a right to kill many premature infants outside the womb, or to take the lives of depressed or brainwashed individuals who claim to have no desire to live.
Other abortion proponents make a comparison between pregnancy and organ donation – arguing that a woman does not have to preserve the life of her unborn child, for the same reason she is not obligated to save a stranger's life by donating her kidney.
In this argument, the woman's “right to bodily integrity” is said to allow for abortion, even if fetal personhood and basic rights are granted – since the person in need of a kidney transplant is also a person with the right to live. But Kaczor explained that this argument, for reasons he details in his book, ultimately contradicts its own premises.
“If the human being in utero has basic rights,” he said, “then he or she also has a right to bodily integrity. And the right to bodily integrity minimally means that a person’s body should not be dismembered, poisoned, or otherwise injured for the sake of another person.
“This is precisely what happens in abortion – so the kidney analogy, properly understood, is an argument against, rather than in favor of, abortion.”
He also addresses arguments which hold that some particular characteristic, such as the ability to feel pain, is what gives a person the right to live.
Some of these arguments, he explained, expand the notion of “rights” to an absurd degree – such that accidentally stepping on insects would be equivalent to running over pedestrians with one's car. Others, he noted, reduce the notion too narrowly, failing to account for a number of otherwise-normal people who have no sensitivity to pain because of a rare neurological condition.
Even some common everyday examples, he said, disprove the argument based on a capacity for pain.
“My wife gave birth many times naturally, whereas I flinch at dental work,” Kaczor observed. “If the ability to feel pain is what grants us our rights and dignity, but we have unequal capacities for pain, then on what basis should we assert that we have equal rights and equal dignity?”
“By contrast,” he said, “the pro-life view – that all human beings have basic moral worth and rights simply because they are humans having a rational nature – suffers from none of these problems.”
“It is not over-inclusive, so as to equate humans and insects,” Kaczor pointed out. “It is not under-inclusive, because it includes those handicapped people who cannot feel pain.”
“It secures the equal moral worth of all human beings – because all human beings share equally in human nature, which is not something that comes and goes episodically over time.”
Kaczor hopes that his book will allow opponents of abortion to articulate the pro-life position in an uncompromising yet charitable manner, in the discussions and debates that inevitably arise in a conflicted culture.
“Abortion certainly is difficult to discuss,” he acknowledged. “First, it is important to speak with great respect to those on the other side.”
“Calling each other names, thinking the very worst about others, typically does not lead to much civil discussion. So, in 'The Ethics of Abortion,' I’ve written a book that tries to entirely avoid polemical and uncharitable discourse.”
“In order to answer the arguments of those with whom I disagree,” Kaczor said, “it is important to really understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.”
“St. Thomas Aquinas is a great model for this,” the philosopher noted.