Pro-Life Aristotle
Taking both sides of the abortion debate seriously.


LOPEZ: Is abortion ever ethical?

KACZOR: No, at least if you mean by “abortion” the intentional killing of a human being prior to birth. There are some abortions, sometimes called “indirect abortions,” in which a legitimate medical procedure is performed to save the life of the mother and as a side effect, unintentionally the life of the unborn is lost. Take, for instance, the case of a gravid cancerous uterus. The cancerous organ can be removed even if there is a pre-viable fetus within it. This is morally permissible, but properly speaking it is not an abortion, even though as a side effect, fetal demise takes place.

LOPEZ: So what if a mother’s life is in danger? What if she has cancer? What if she will likely die if she is not treated? And what if when she is treated, the child might very well die?

KACZOR: As mentioned, any legitimate medical procedure that is needed to save the woman’s life — whether or not she is pregnant — may be performed, so long as the death of the unborn child is not sought as a means or as an end. Of course, a pregnant woman may choose, if she wishes, to decline such interventions in order to preserve the life developing within her. These cases are governed by what is called the principle of double effect or double-effect reasoning. So long as the death of the unborn child is not sought as a means or as an end, and the procedure is necessary in order to save the life of the mother, it may be done even if it brings about the bad effect of fetal death. In a similar way, the death of the mother may not be sought as an end or as a means, yet she may choose to accept her own death as a side effect of protecting the life of her child. Innocent human life is worthy of respect and protection, but in some tragic situations, life will be lost whatever is chosen.

LOPEZ: You write about rape: “It turns out that most women who actually conceive a child do not choose to have an abortion.” How can that possibly matter?

KACZOR: Morally, it is irrelevant whether all women who get pregnant via rape get an abortion or give birth. My point was simply that even though people may think that women who get pregnant in this way all want to get abortions, this is simply not true.

LOPEZ: Congresswoman Jackie Speier made headlines this year when she emotionally talked about her abortion on the House floor, supposedly having the rhetorical effect of shutting down pro-life congressman Christopher Smith? Can you bring some ethical clarity to that episode?

KACZOR: After hearing Christopher Smith describe the gruesome reality of an abortion procedure, Congresswoman Speier said, “I really planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey just put my stomach in knots, because I’m one of those women he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix.” She continued, “I lost a baby,” she said, pausing again. “But for you to stand on this floor and suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous.” I’m not sure that Congressman Smith claimed that this was welcomed or done without thought. I also don’t think that Congresswoman Speier can generalize from her own case and say that all abortions are similar to hers. But what is at issue is not whether abortion is done thoughtfully or cavalierly, but whether what is done is intentionally taking the life of a human being prior to birth. The implicit and fallacious argument of Congresswoman Speier seems to be, “Abortion isn’t bad because I did it.” She is confusing a judgment about persons — this person is bad — with a judgment about actions — this act is wrong. We can and should refrain from judging people who have had abortions, since we do not know their mind and heart. We cannot judge their culpability for their actions. But at the same time, we can and must judge whether particular actions are just or unjust.

LOPEZ: How about the ethics of this: Do pro-lifers do enough to promote adoption? To make it easier both for people who want to adopt and for people who want/need to offer their child to adoptive parents?

KACZOR: I think pro-life people do a lot to promote adoptions, but I don’t think the same thing is true of “pro-choice” people. If they are really in favor of choice, I would expect them to be big proponents of adoption. I may be mistaken but I don’t think Planned Parenthood spends much if any money promoting this choice. By contrast, pro-life people run crisis-pregnancy centers from coast to coast. Of course, more can be done, but I’ve been impressed by the continuous and courageous efforts of so many people to promote adoption. As mentioned, I am a huge beneficiary of these efforts.