A professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Christopher Kaczor is the author of the new book The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice. He talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about life, death, justice, and the Star Trek transporter.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You write that The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice “provides reasoned justification for the view that all intentional abortions are morally wrong and that doctors and nurses who object should not be forced to act against their consciences.” What right do you, a man, have to make such a case? And why shouldn’t they be forced to act against their consciences? Abortion, you might recall, is legal in the United States. Don’t doctors and nurses have a moral obligation to provide access?
CHRISTOPHER KACZOR: You’ve asked three important questions, the first of which concerns the right to speak about abortion. Legally speaking, everyone has a right to free speech, including speech about abortion. Morally speaking, every person of good will has the right and obligation to speak out in defense of the defenseless and in favor of a just social order. The question “What right do you, a man, have to make a case against abortion?” seems to presuppose that abortion is simply and solely about women, but this is a false supposition. The majority of abortionists are men — more men than women describe themselves as “pro-choice” — and in the United States, men pay for abortions with their tax dollars. Aside from these considerations, every abortion involves the pregnant woman, the expectant father, the one who is aborted, and the society that allows it.
Secondly, although abortion is currently legal in the United States, it is also currently illegal to force any doctor to perform an abortion. The Church amendment, passed shortly after Roe v. Wade, protects pro-life doctors and institutions from being forced to carry out abortions. Doctors and nurses, as mentioned, have no legal obligation to provide access to abortion, nor do they have a moral obligation. Indeed, the Hippocratic Oath says, “I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.” A doctor’s proper role is to heal patients and promote health, not to injure and destroy human life. I develop this case extensively in my book as well as elsewhere online.
LOPEZ: It’s all nice and good to engage in academic exercises about the ethics of abortion, but no book will eradicate the fact that there are women who will feel the need to abort their unborn children and doctors who will provide the service. It was the case before it was legal and it will be after. Desperation doesn’t always take a break for an academic debate before further action.
KACZOR: I think you are right that abortions took place prior to legalization and abortions would continue if abortion were made illegal. The same point can be made for theft, child abuse, and assault, which have always happened in human history and which will always happen. Indeed, if people never did the act in question, making a law about it would be superfluous. In any case, before anyone actually chooses abortion, that person first considers the possibility and endorses it as choiceworthy. I hope that my book can prompt people to reconsider the issue, to reconsider whether abortion is choiceworthy. Furthermore, thoughtful people, those concerned with justice and the promotion of authentic human flourishing, have a serious obligation to help all people, especially women in crisis-pregnancy situations, to find a way to provide concrete service and aid to everyone involved.
LOPEZ: What’s the most compelling argument advocates of legal abortion make?
KACZOR: The most compelling argument for abortion is made by David Boonin of the University of Colorado-Boulder in his book A Defense of Abortion. Boonin is a very smart philosopher and uses all his ingenuity to deny the fetal right to live until 25 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. His argument is that until a being has an actual desire of some kind, that being does not have a right to live.
Boonin’s view faces several difficulties. The first is that it opens to the door to infanticide, the killing of newborn infants, since many premature babies are born prior to 25 weeks, and so do not have a right to live in Boonin’s view. Secondly, it is implausible to hold that human beings only 25 weeks old really have desires, since desires involve judgments that something is lacking and that this something is worth having. Immature human beings do have pleasant and unpleasant sensations, but I doubt that they make judgments, and therefore they do not really have desires. If this is true, then infanticide becomes permissible according to the standard Boonin proposes until much later in human development, a year or two after birth.