In the last few decades, I believe that we have been winning the culture war on abortion. When I first started teaching, I would say that the majority of my students were in favor of abortion. As the years have gone on, the tide shifted in the other direction. Granted, I teach at a Catholic school, but young people tend to be on the more progressive end of social issues.
However, in the last few years, we have seen a strong pushback from the pro-abortion side. In pop culture more and more movies and TV shows are portraying abortion in a positive light. In politics, many states like New York have passed laws that remove most restrictions on abortion. While these push backs are real, I believe that this is the desperate flailing of a side that knows that it is in the processes of defeat.
But between now and final victory, we have to be vigilant in prayer, compassion, and knowledge. New arguments are becoming popular that require some response.
One that I have recently encountered is this: “The fetus is a parasite.”
The argument is that, like a parasite, a fetus is a foreign organism that leeches off of the body of the host (the mother) and puts her health at risk. And since we have no moral problem with removing other parasitical creatures from human hosts, abortion would be morally the same.
There are many things wrong with this argument. The first is that the fetus is not a foreign invader. While the sperm must be provided from without, the embryo is not simply a developing sperm. The female provides the egg and together with the sperm you have a brand new organism that originates inside of the mother.
The second problem with the analogy is that a parasite works against the natural functions of the body. In Ridley Scott’s classic film Alien, a creature implants an embryo into a human and that creature grows and is “born” by bursting out of the chest. In this case, it would be parasitic, because the human host does not have within itself a nature to carry this embryo safely.
But with human beings, we have an entire reproductive system. The natural end of the sexual act is the reproduction of new life. The woman has within her body by nature the means to conceive, grow, and give birth to a child.
Now, to say that pregnancy can be taxing on a mother’s body may be a great understatement. As a man, I imagine any words of mine will be poor at fully capturing the experience of pregnancy. Many go through great discomfort, morning sickness, and in some parts of the world the mortality rate for mothers is too high. In this case, couldn’t say that the fetus is a parasite causing harm to the host?
Again, the answer would be no. The discomfort and the sickness are the results of changes in the body. To a lesser extent, developing children may experience physical “growing pains,” but these changes are natural and good. Even things like menstruation, even though there can be great discomfort (or a “nuisance” as my wife calls it), it is still a natural process of human biology. If a mother dies in childbirth, this is a bug not a feature of pregnancy. When that happens, something has gone wrong and worked against nature. The natural end of birth requires a living mother to help raise and nourish the child. Please forgive me for focusing on the purely biological aspects of motherhood. I in no way mean to reduce this wonderful vocation to it’s bodily components, but the above argument for abortion is a biological one, so it requires a biological response.
Another recent argument I have heard is that the fetus or the embryo is not alive. I had someone recently say to me that there are seven signs of biological life and the fetus/embryo fails to meet them.
These seven qualities are:
-respiration (eg. metabolizing oxygen)
-sensitivity (e.g. reacting to surroundings)
-ability to reproduce
-nutrition (e.g. taking in nutrients)
The pro-abortion side places the focus on the embryo here rather than the fetus because unlike the fetus, the embryo may not have a brain, heart, nervous system, and other bodily systems that we normally see in the human person. The argument is that the embryo lacks the totality of these qualities and therefore cannot be categorized as biological life. For example, While an embryo may grow, metabolize oxygen and take in nutrition, may be immobile in the womb and an embryo does not generally reproduce other embryos.
Let us leave aside the fact that these qualities cannot account for some other biological creatures like viruses. Even with that caveat, this pro-abortion argument is a poor one.
Dr. Peter Kreeft has pointed out that there is a trick of the English language that occurs when talking about the fetus/embryo. We forget that we are ultimately using adjectives and not nouns. When we call someone a “teen-ager,” we use that word like a noun. But in English, this is simply shorthand for an adjectival description. When we say “teen-ager” we normally mean “Teen-aged human.” If my dog was 13-years-old, I could also call him a “teen-ager.” But I do not mean to say that my dog and my freshmen students are somehow of the same kind. A teen-aged dog is not the same species as a teen-aged human. In the same way “newborn” is really an adjectival shorthand for “Newborn human.”
And we must remember that this is also the case with “fetus” and “embryo.” In our common conversation about abortion, we are using then as an adjectival shorthand for “fetal human” and “embryonic human.”
This is important to recognize, but this current argument looks at the embryo as a distinct life from a human person. But it is simply an embryonic human.