Abortion debate: a secular case against legalized abortion

Unborn baby scheming about being only two months old
Unborn baby scheming about being only two months old

Note: this post has a twin! Its companion post on a secular case against gay marriage is here.

Now, you may think that the view that the unborn deserve protection during pregnancy is something that you either take on faith or not. But I want to explain how you can make a case for the right to life of the unborn, just by using reason and evidence.

To defend the pro-life position, I think you need to sustain 3 arguments:

  1. The unborn is a living being with human DNA, and is therefore human.
  2. There is no morally-relevant difference between an unborn baby, and one already born.
  3. None of the justifications given for terminating an unborn baby are morally adequate.

Now, the pro-abortion debater may object to point 1, perhaps by claiming that the unborn baby is either not living, or not human, or not distinct from the mother.

Defending point 1: Well, it is pretty obvious that the unborn child is not inanimate matter. It is definitely living and growing through all 9 months of pregnancy. (Click here for a video that shows what a baby looks like through all 9 months of pregnancy). Since it has human DNA, that makes it a human. And its DNA is different from either its mother or father, so it clearly not just a tissue growth of the father or the mother. More on this point at Christian Cadre, here. An unborn child cannot be the woman’s own body, because then the woman would have four arms, four legs, two heads, four eyes and two different DNA signatures. When you have two different human DNA signatures, you have two different humans.

Secondly, the pro-abortion debater may try to identify a characteristic of the unborn that is not yet present or developed while it is still in the womb, and then argue that because the unborn does not have that characteristic, it does not deserve the protection of the law.

Defending point 2: You need to show that the unborn are not different from the already-born in any meaningful way. The main differences between them are: size, level of development, environment and degree of dependence. Once these characteristics are identified, you can explain that none of these differences provide moral justification for terminating a life. For example, babies inside and outside the womb have the same value, because location does not change a human’s intrinsic value.

Additionally, the pro-abortion debater may try to identify a characteristic of the already-born that is not yet present or developed in the unborn, and then argue that because the unborn does not have that characteristic, that it does not deserve protection, (e.g. – sentience). Most of the these objections that you may encounter are refuted in this essay by Francis Beckwith. Usually these objections fall apart because they assume the thing they are trying to prove, namely, that the unborn deserves less protection than the already born.

Finally, the pro-abortion debater may conceded your points 1 and 2, and admit that the unborn is fully human. But they may then try to provide a moral justification for terminating the life of the unborn, regardless.

Defending point 3: I fully grant that it is sometimes justifiable to terminate an innocent human life, if there is a moral justification. Is there such a justification for abortion? One of the best known attempts to justify abortion is Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “violinist” argument. This argument is summarized by Paul Manata, one of the experts over at Triablogue:

Briefly, this argument goes like this: Say a world-famous violinist developed a fatal kidney ailment and the Society of Music Lovers found that only you had the right blood-type to help. So, they therefore have you kidnapped and then attach you to the violinist’s circulatory system so that your kidneys can be used to extract the poison from his. To unplug yourself from the violinist would be to kill him; therefore, pro-lifers would say a person has to stay attached against her will to the violinist for 9 months. Thompson says that it would be morally virtuous to stay plugged-in. But she asks, “Do you have to?” She appeals to our intuitions and answers, “No.”

Manata then goes on to defeat Thomson’s proposal here, with a short, memorable illustration, which I highly recommend that you check out. More info on how to respond to similar arguments is here.

Here is the best book for beginners on the pro-life view.

For those looking for advanced resources, Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, published the book Defending Life, with Cambridge University Press, 2007.

21 thoughts on “Abortion debate: a secular case against legalized abortion”

  1. Secular arguments always result in a sort of moral hierarchy like we see adjudicated in a court room. The secular argument against abortion will ultimately suggest some abortions are much worse than others, with some not being a big deal.

    Consider the frequency of early miscarriages in the first trimester. This becomes very problematic for point 2. Miscarriages are so common that it’s hard to make a secular argument that something which happens frequently without human intervention becomes extremely immoral when humans intervene.

    From a pure dead fetus count, nature outperforms the abortionists by orders of magnitude. That’s a real problem for any pro-life secular argument.


    1. It’s only a problem if one does not recognize the moral difference between natural death and homicide.

      The fact that SIDS exists is no warrant to go around suffocating infants in their cribs.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. It’s an error to believe the fact that a zygote or an embryo is human at the cellular level will score any points in a secular argument. While, there is a solid secular argument for fetal rights. Embryo rights…That dog won’t hunt.

        An embryo is radically different from a baby (or fetus) in many meaningful ways. Try making a secular argument that it is homicide to kill something that doesn’t yet have a nervous system. That just isn’t going to get any traction because in the secular world humans are merely high functioning apes.

        The notion that we become exceptional humans at conception will always remain a matter or faith.


        1. The abortion debate is a debate about facts. The facts about the unborn, from conception, are as follows:

          1) living system with human DNA
          2) unique genetic structure different from mother or father
          3) (as the Beckwith link explained) no characteristics “yet to be acquired” that are different from characteristics that are gained and lost by adult human beings – with no effect on their value as a human being

          It’s a matter of faith to state that the unborn child, from conception, is either not living, not human, or lacking in any essential characteristic of being human.

          I recommend the Cambridge University Press book “Defending Life” to you as a start on understanding pro-life arguments. The “faith” is all on the pro-abortion side. The pro-life side is all science. Logic. Evidence.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I hope you don’t think I’m trying to troll ya. I don’t dispute any of your science. I just don’t find the fact that life begins at conception particularly helpful in assessing the moral status of an embryo. Can’t wrap my head around the idea that heaven is full of the souls of innocent dead embryos. At the end of the day, perhaps I’m just not able to accept the ramifications on the related issue of in vitro fertilization.


        2. “Embryo rights…That dog won’t hunt.”

          That dog hunts every single day on the sidewalk in terms of hearts and minds changed and lives saved from abortion (both the Moms and babies).

          “An embryo is radically different from a baby (or fetus) in many meaningful ways.”

          An infant is radically different from a teenager in many meaningful ways. So what?

          Recently, a lady stopped by our sidewalk to thank me for “saving her baby” (her words, not mine) girl two years prior. After I got home, I reviewed my notes to see what they said. The woman had come to us 4 weeks pregnant. That’s a fairly early embryo. But, the woman knew what we all know – it’s a BABY.

          Well, it’s a baby when he or she is wanted. It’s “reproductive justice” or “a clump of cells” when he or she is not wanted. THERE is your “faith.” There is your anti-science.

          “The notion that we become exceptional humans at conception will always remain a matter or faith.”

          By “exceptional,” do you mean “able to perform calculus or differential equations or prove Fermat’s Last Theorem?!?”

          Every time you shift the goalpost, a little bit of your soul dies.

          WK was right in an earlier post: “don’t kill the babies” is pretty basic. Every 5 year old knows it, and the ones who later become pro-abortion have to be brainwashed into it by euphemisms (even the word “abortion” is a euphemism), diversions, deflections, and goalpost shifting.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. They ignore basic facts on the violinist
    they don’t have half my DNA.
    I don’t even know them.
    I didn’t have negligent behaviour against common sense that caused their condition. So no equal in idea to recreational sex or unprotected sex. Since I doubt many abortions are due to failed contraceptives that number would be low. Many are due to lack of use and abortion as a contraceptive.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have been arguing somewhat differently lately – online and on the sidewalk – with success:

    It is settled science that, at human conception, a new human organism comes into existence.

    Minimal morality dictates that it is wrong to execute the innocent. (The presumption of innocence applies to humans in the womb too.)

    Unless the pro-abortion crowd can prove beyond ANY doubt (say-so claims by “experts” do not count as proof) that the human organism in the womb is NOT a person / human being – which proof has never been supplied – then pro-aborts find themselves on the wrong side of a holocaust of immense proportions.

    The burden of proof to show that there are certain humans who are not persons falls on the pro-abort, just as the burden of proof falls on a hunter to NOT shoot at a shadow in the trees, because it might be the shadow of a person instead of an animal. History is replete with human rights atrocities in which certain humans were wrongly declared to be non-persons. This is why pro-aborts have much in common with those who gassed Jewish people because they were “sub-human,” and those who owned and whipped Black people because they were “less than animals.” You will notice that most arguments put forth by the pro-abortion crowd necessarily and inherently dehumanize the human in the womb. That is their only “hope.”

    Open-minded seekers, on the other hand, who are willing to follow the science need only adopt a minimal morality to understand that abortion is wrong. They do not have to be religious, highly degreed, rich, or privileged. They only need to know it is wrong to execute the innocent. The fact that some pro-aborts actually make straight-faced defenses for the death penalty for innocents, as well as executing BORN children, is a sign of death-speration on their part, as they cling to their abortion cult for any and all reason, however irrational.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Pro abortion requires the fetus to be sub animal in many of their views. Because many pro abortion people are ones that will push to get human rights for animals apes and trees.

    But don’t go to equal rights for a fetus.

    I will point out to them that at minimum argument a fetus should at least equal an animal. So anything I can do to a fetus can be done to an animal at random.

    So if they are pro abortion they better support trophy hunting and people just killing of pets and animals they are tired of having responsibility for. Otherwise they are a hypocrite

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’ve used the argument that pro life/anti abortion is not a religious issue, it is a human rights violation. A child does not belong to the mother or the father. In a civilized society, children are not the property of family or state, they belong to the human race. Those who protest against their slaughter deserve the same freedom of speech as those who lobby for the protection of animals, trees, and the environment.

    In Canada, we who spread “hate speech” have already lost much of our freedom of speech.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In Canada, pro-life clubs are derecognized and defunded. Pro life protestors are arrested and kept in jail for years. Abortions are paid for by the tax dollars of pro lifers, thanks to their single payer healthcare system. It’s a terrible country for unborn babies and pro lifers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed, and also inter varsity Christian clubs are not defunded, as they have never been funded. When I was in university, the common meeting lounge that the IVCF had been signing out for years was inexplicably denied. At that time (30some years ago), we were permitted to sign out classrooms to meet after hours, but we couldn’t put up signage on campus as people would tear our posters down or deface them.


          1. I should probably not name it. A smallish university in western Canada. My experience there was not all negative. I just remembered the Christian professor/student prayer lunch that the university allowed. I have beefs and bouquets, as with any other experience. Another beef that I remembered was the fee that every student was required to pay to fund the Student Union counsel budget. As far as we could tell, the majority of that fund was spent on the addition to the SU building to make room for a bar. While it was under construction, the student counsel funded pub crawl parties. They provided free beer to students at pretty much all SU events. When I asked the president what would be served to the students who didn’t drink alcohol, he just looked stunned – he had never thought of that. I did not attend any of them.


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