VDB-NOBIS abortion discussion, continued: My reply to Nathan Nobis’s latest critique
I. Background and introductory comments
I appreciate Dr. Nathan Nobis (an abortion-choice proponent) for taking time to respond thoughtfully and respectfully to my replies concerning his review of my book (a critique of popular abortion-choice arguments). No doubt some readers may think Nobis’s and my discussion is getting tedious and difficult to follow (as Nobis observes in his last response), and no doubt there may be some truth in thinking that! Nevertheless, I hope that my additional comments will be helpful to readers interested in Nobis’s and my discussion. I hope, too, that truth concerning abortion will become clearer as a result.
Some background to get our bearings:
- Dr. Nathan Nobis co-authored a book published in June 2019.
- Both Nobis and I had articles on abortion published in August 2019 in a pro-con forum at Political Animal Magazine (Nobis’s article was an excerpt of his earlier book).
- I published a book in October 2020 (in which I criticize some of what Nobis and his co-author wrote in their book).
- In November 2020 Nobis wrote a review of my book.
- In late December 2020 I provided some replies to Nobis’s review.
- On January 1, 2021, Nobis provided a response to my replies.
- What follows is my response to Nobis’s latest response.
I will respond only to a few of Nobis’s comments. It seems to me that Nobis’s criticisms of my work continue to be deeply problematic from the point of view of critical thinking.
II. Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violinist
For background, recall that Judith Jarvis Thomson writes the following in her famous 1971 essay “A Defense of Abortion”:
You wake up in a hospital, ‘plugged in’ to a famous violinist, who needs to use your kidneys to stay alive. You were kidnapped for this purpose. If you unplug, he will die. But it’s only for nine months.
Thomson’s idea is that even if the unborn human being were a person, abortion is permissible morally, just as you aren’t morally obligated to remain hooked up to the violinist to sustain his life.
In response to my argument that Thomson commits a faulty analogy in her argument based on her violinist thought experiment, Nobis claims that Thomson isn’t arguing via analogy and thereby suggests that my critique of Thomson’s argument is mistaken. Nobis writes:
The “point” of Judith Thomson’s violinist example is not to serve as an “analogy” to fetuses: the proposal isn’t that fetuses are “like” violinists (although they are in some ways, and are not in other ways: for a discussion of the nature and function of analogies in reasoning, see Richard Feldman’s Reason and Argument).
Its point is to motivative [sic] and justify the insight that the right to life is not a right to everything you need for your life to continue if that requires using someone else’s body: your right to life is not a right to someone else’s body, even if you need that body to live.
I have two replies (which I develop below): (1) Thomson does argue via analogy; (2) the insight to which Nobis points arises from a faulty analogy.
There are at least four reasons (that work together as a cumulative case argument) for thinking Thomson’s violinist argument is an argument via analogy. These reasons have to do with (a) Thomson’s intention, (b) her argument’s logical structure, (c) her article’s context, and (d) background evidence.
(a) Author’s intention
It seems very much that in her essay “A Defense of Abortion” the author herself—Judith Jarvis Thomson—intends the violinist thought experiment to be understood as an analogy. Later in her essay Thomson writes, “And it might be argued that all my analogies are therefore irrelevant—for you do not have that special kind of responsibility for that violinist….” Significantly, Thomson responds to the possible objection she is here considering not by saying she wasn’t arguing by analogy but by saying something else, i.e., that there isn’t such a special kind of responsibility (which is false, by the way). So it’s reasonable to think that Thomson’s intent is that by employing the violinist example she is using an argument by analogy.
(b) Logical structure
Throughout her essay, Thomson explicitly and implicitly compares abortion to the case of unplugging the violinist. It will take too much space to demonstrate this point here, but a careful reading of Thomson’s essay does show this, it seems to me.
In fact, the structure of Thomson’s argument very much seems to be what philosopher Trudy Govier calls an a priori analogy (see chapter 11 “Analogies: Reasoning from Case to Case” in Govier’s widely-used and highly-respected critical thinking textbook A Practical Study of Argument, 7th edition; I’ve used Govier’s text for a dozen or so years in my Critical Thinking courses). According to Govier, the analogue in an a priori analogy may be “entirely hypothetical or fictitious,” i.e., “a case that is invented by the arguer.” This is certainly true of Thomson’s famous violinist who needs our kidney to live. Also, in an a priori analogy the key is to achieve, with respect to our primary subject, i.e., what we’re trying to get illumination or clarification about (e.g., abortion), consistency with judgements rendered in cases that we are morally clear about or upon which a judgement has already been rendered (e.g., being hooked up to someone else so that person can use one’s kidney). This is the structure of Thomson’s argument.
(Govier distinguishes a priori analogies from analogies based on empirical experience of the world’s goings-on and inferences therefrom. The notion of a priori has to do with “concepts and beliefs that are independent of sense experience.”)
According to Govier, arguments by a priori analogy are typically found in ethical and legal discourse. So the location of Thomson’s argument, i.e., the fact that it’s in the academic journal Philosophy and Public Affairs, seems to be a natural philosophical “habitat” or context for a priori analogical arguments. This by itself is not a whole lot of evidence for thinking Thomson’s violinist argument is an analogical argument, but it counts, at least a bit, and adds to the larger cumulative case.
(d) Background evidence
There are others—i.e., not just me, and not just pro-life thinkers—who interpret Thomson’s violinist argument in terms of argument by analogy. Here is a brief list of others who think (along with Thomson) that she is using the violinist as an analogy:
- Francis Beckwith, Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life (College Press 2000), p. 88.
- David Boonin-Vail, “A Defense of ‘A Defense of Abortion’: On the Responsibility Objection to Thomson’s Argument,” in Louis Pojman and Francis Beckwith, editors, The Abortion Controversy: 25 Years After Roe v. Wade: A Reader, 2nd edition (Thomson/Wadsworth 1998), p. 152.
- Charles C. Camosy, Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation (Eerdmans 2015), p. 75.
- Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, 2nd edition (Routledge 2015), pp. 152, 157.
- Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Crossway 2009), p. 187.
- Justina Van Manen, Stuck: A Complete Guide to Answering Tough Questions about Abortion (Life Cycle Books 2019), p. 104.
- Eric Wiland, “Unconscious violinists and the use of analogies in moral argument,” Journal of Medical Ethics 26:6 (2000).
So we have four reasons—Thomson’s apparent intention, her argument’s logical structure, her article’s context, and background evidence concerning Thomson’s article—which work together as a cumulative case for thinking, reasonably, that Thomson’s violinist argument is an argument by analogy, contrary to what Nobis claims.
I grant that Thomson’s violinist scenario may indeed motivate the principle/ insight that Nobis claims it motivates: i.e., that the right to life is not a right to everything you need for your life to continue if that requires using someone else’s body: your right to life is not a right to someone else’s body, even if you need that body to live. But the problem is that the violinist scenario is in hugely important ways—hugely morally significant ways—not analogous to the situation in pregnancy (in which the unborn human being is assumed, for the sake of argument, to be a person). This means that the principle to which Nobis points isn’t helpful for furthering our understanding. The principle, to which Nobis points, is a principle that arises from a faulty a priori analogy, i.e., an analogy that doesn’t capture the morally significant goings-on in pregnancy and abortion.
Permit me to quote again from my book (a note on page 83), so readers will have a better sense of how faulty Thomson’s violinist and other analogies are:
Thomson writes: “You wake up in a hospital, ‘plugged in’ to a famous violinist, who needs to use your kidneys to stay alive. You were kidnapped for this purpose. If you unplug, he will die. But it’s only for nine months.” Thomson’s idea is that even if the unborn human being were a person, abortion is permissible morally, just as you aren’t morally obligated to remain hooked up to the violinist to sustain his life. But, as many critics have (rightly) pointed out, Thomson’s analogy is faulty—terribly faulty. Getting pregnant is (typically) not like rape. That is, getting pregnant is not like being forced to get “plugged in” to a violinist, famous or not. Also, to unplug or detach the violinist is not like hiring someone to directly kill the violinist by poisoning him, ripping off his limbs, crushing his skull, or shredding him via a suction machine, which is what abortion does. Rather, the violinist’s death is caused by the kidney ailment, not your or your doctor’s direct killing action. And keep in mind that “Euphemistically calling abortion the ‘withholding of support or treatment’ makes about as much sense as calling suffocating someone with a pillow the withdrawing of oxygen” (Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, 133). Also, the violinist is a stranger, to whom one does not have a moral obligation to provide life-sustaining care, unlike the special moral duties parents have to care for their children. In her article Thomson attempts to address these sorts of issues by setting out other analogies, but they are terribly faulty, too. According to Thomson, if you opened a window and someone blundered or fell into your house, you don’t have a moral obligation to let them use your house, so, similarly, abortion is permissible. But, as critics (rightly) point out, it’s a different story—one more analogous to pregnancy—if by opening the window you knowingly pulled (or risked pulling) an innocent person into your house. So it would be morally outrageous to kill the innocent person you pulled into your house. Also, according to Thomson, if “people seeds” floated into your living room carpet (which is required for their gestation) and they began to sprout into persons even though you tried to keep them out (via fine-meshed screens/contraceptives), you wouldn’t be morally obligated to sustain them. But, as critics (rightly) point out, if you actually planted the people seeds by engaging in a planting activity (while knowing that screens/ contraceptives are not 100% foolproof), you would be morally obligated not to kill them.
The reason you would be morally obligated not to kill them is that they are persons. And persons have the right to life, which is, at minimum, the right not to be killed—especially if they haven’t done anything wrong, and especially if you are responsible for their existence, vulnerability, and dependence.
The main argument in my book that’s relevant here, i.e., relevant to Thomson’s violinist argument where the fetus is a person, is on page 82 of my book:
Objection: Okay, the unborn human being is a person, but just as nobody has a right to my kidney to ensure his/her survival, abortion is morally permissible because I’m not morally obligated to sustain another person with my body.
Reply: Yes, I agree that at least this much is true: If you lost the function of your kidneys, then you wouldn’t have the moral right to force me to donate one of my kidneys to you, nor would I have the moral obligation to donate one of my kidneys to you. And if I lost the function of my kidneys, then I wouldn’t have the moral right to force you to donate one of your kidneys to me, nor would you have the moral obligation to donate one of your kidneys to me. But these truths are not analogous in any relevant way to the situation in pregnancy. It’s a faulty analogy, in other words. The situation in pregnancy is more like this: My life depends on a kidney you’ve voluntarily given me, i.e., you’ve consented to giving me the kidney by deliberately engaging in and willfully permitting the action that put the life-giving kidney in me (a kidney you can live without), but now you want to take it back—and doing so will kill me. See the difference? Yes, one is not morally obligated to sustain another human being via kidney transplants/ donations, but one is morally obligated not to cause the death of another human being by taking away what she requires to sustain her life—even if it was your kidney. It’s one thing for someone who needs a kidney to die because of a kidney ailment, but it’s quite another thing to rip out kidneys from another person and thereby kill that person. Abortion is like the latter case: it deliberately kills a person (often by poisoning, ripping off limbs, crushing the skull, etc.).
In other words, pregnancy (in non-rape cases) is like freely giving your kidney (which you can live without) to another person (a vulnerable, dependent person whom you’ve created) so the other person can live, whereas abortion is like tearing out from that person the kidney you’ve donated to him/her—and thereby kills that other person—because you’ve changed your mind about your previously-freely-made decision to donate it.
So persons indeed do have a moral right to what was someone else’s kidney, if they need that kidney to live AND if one (the donor) has already, in a fully-informed manner, engaged in freely giving/ donating one’s kidney to the person in question (and the donation isn’t a physical threat to the life of the donor). Ditto for human fetuses—which we and Thomson concede are persons—and the biological systems gifted/donated to them also freely and in a fully-informed manner.
III. Nobis’s objection to my case of the donated kidney
Nobis objects as follows:
I’m just going to say that, in important ways, pregnancy and abortion don’t seem to be much “like” either of the kidney cases he mentions. “Repossessing” a donated kidney from someone who then dies because of that repossession is very different from abortion. I will leave it to any readers to make lists of similarities and differences here to further evaluate whether van der Breggen indeed makes a strong case that if women voluntarily engage in sex when there is a chance of pregnancy that indeed results in the fetus having the right to their bodies or woman are otherwise prima facie obligated to provide for the fetus.
My reply: I will leave it to readers to think about this, too. But, for the sake of clarity, I will add (emphasize) that my argument that pregnancy and abortion are like the kidney case I mention comes at the heels of arguing for the personhood of the unborn and is an attempt to set out a better analogy than Thomson’s violinist analogy. It seems to me that aborting a human fetus, which we and Thomson concede are persons, is like repossessing a donated kidney in the important sense that the biological systems gifted/ donated to the fetus (i.e., gifted/ donated freely and in a fully-informed manner) are now being ripped away from the fetus. By ripping the fetus out of his/her life-sustaining environment we are (from the fetus’s perspective) ripping away the biological systems that were freely gifted to the fetus in a fully-informed manner. This is not a case of merely declining to sustain a person’s life for whom you have no responsibility and who has no moral claims on you. Rather, it’s a case of killing a person — your son or daughter whom you’ve created to be in a vulnerable and dependent state — by ripping away the necessary life-lines (some of which do the work of kidneys) you gave him/her in the first place; AND it’s not just ripping away the life-lines—it’s also a case of poisoning that person (by the abortionist’s needle) or tearing off that person’s limbs (by the abortionist’s suction machine) or perhaps crushing that person’s skull (by the abortionist’s forceps). Abortion is like a fatal tearing out of a donated kidney, and much worse.
About consciousness and its significance for the abortion discussion, Nobis writes the following:
We [Nobis and Grob] argue that the fact that (early) fetuses are not conscious and have never been conscious is highly relevant to the ethics of abortion.
In response, van der Breggen writes:
the state of being of the fetus is more like a non-permanent coma or non-permanent vegetative state: the fetus will awaken/ gain consciousness—if we don’t kill him/ her.
But a non-permanent coma involves someone who was conscious: that’s not present with most abortions. So I invite readers to investigate here more thoroughly.
In reply, I agree that readers should investigate further. I invite them to look at the relevant portions of Nobis and Grob’s book AND look at the relevant portions of my book (chapter 11).
For clarity’s sake, please note that it’s important to take the dialectical context of my response into account. My above comment is my response to Nobis’s appeal to what he thinks is “support” for his principle that “If a being is and has always been completely unconscious, that being is definitely not a person,” which in turn, according to Nobis, provides support for the permissibility of killing a fetus, since “they never ‘were’ in a conscious way.” Nobis says this is supported by considerations such as “permanent, irreversible coma cases.” But, as I point out, as support it’s problematic. Why? Because, as I also point out, the state of being of the fetus is more like a non-permanent coma or non-permanent vegetative state: the fetus will awaken/ gain consciousness — if we don’t kill him/ her. Critical thinkers should be aware of this.
With that clarification behind us, let’s say that we do have a human being who is and always has been completely unconscious, but will not remain so and we know this—that is, we know that if we don’t kill this human being, then he/she will awaken, will gain consciousness. As I write in my book, “the fact is that being a human being who will have consciousness etc.—if we don’t kill it—is a morally significant moral kind of thing! That’s why we don’t kill people who have non-permanent comas, and that’s why we would not kill people who (hypothetically) have been in a coma all their previous lives but we know will waken and will become conscious.” The human fetus is such a morally significant moral kind of thing.
Concerning consent, I believe my point remains: If one consents to sex then one is consenting to the possibility of pregnancy. In spite of Nobis’s disagreements, my argument still stands.
For the sake of clarity (and to ensure my original argument is not inadvertently misrepresented or lost in the discussion), here is the argument from chapter 24 my book (keep in mind that the context of my argument below is that it comes on the heels of dealing with Judith Jarvis Thomson’s argument, in which it is conceded, for argument’s sake, and for which I argued previously in my book, that the pre-natal human being is a person):
Objection: An impregnated female has the right to consent to having sex without consenting to becoming pregnant, so if she gets pregnant it’s morally permissible to abort the fetus.
Reply: This argument doesn’t seem to make sense. This argument requires believing that it’s meaningful to give consent to the beginning of a causal chain of events and do so without consenting to the causal effects—the risks of which one admits and knows are real and yet goes on to risk. It’s like saying I have a right to consent to lighting a match in a room full of gasoline without consenting to the room catching on fire. Or I have a right to consent to smoking without consenting to getting cancer. That’s odd, surely. And this oddness counts against this argument.
The point is this: If you consent to action X and X has known consequences (or a known high risk of consequences) then basically you are consenting to accepting responsibility for those (risked) consequences. As in gambling at Las Vegas, when you decide to gamble you risk your money and are responsible for your possible losses, so too in initiating a causal chain of events you risk the outcome of the causal consequences—and are responsible for them even if you hoped they wouldn’t occur. Again: Claiming one isn’t consenting to the consequences is odd—and this oddness counts against the above argument.
One may not want to get pregnant and one may take precautions against getting pregnant, but because no precaution is foolproof—and we know this—by engaging in sexual intercourse one takes the risk of pregnancy for which one is responsible. If the outcome is a person with the right to life, then killing that person via abortion is not morally permissible. (Untangling, p. 85.)
Nobis writes: “It’s curious that van der Breggen doesn’t outright argue that abortions of pregnancies that result from rape are wrong.”
In reply, let me re-iterate my previous response.
Recall that Nobis writes (in his review of my book): “It is notable that van der Breggen seems to think that abortions of (comparatively rare) pregnancies that result from rape are also wrong. This, at least, makes sense, since if embryos and early fetuses are persons with the right to life, their origins wouldn’t change that fact.”
Right, it makes sense if embryos and early fetuses are persons with the right to life. Nevertheless, the point of my discussion of the situation of rape is to encourage critical thinking: to look at the pros and cons. Rape is terrible, for sure, definitely. And perhaps it’s a justification of abortion. But, as I point out, perhaps not. To avoid causing further harm, careful thinkers should also examine the other considerations that I discuss. Again, I am trying to encourage careful thinking. It seems to me that when some (many?) people mention rape in abortion discussions, even merely countenancing the possibility of reasons against abortion is a bridge too far for them.
And, again, here is what I write in my book (chapter 21):
Objection: Rape justifies abortion.
Reply: Rape is wrong and terrible, definitely. But perspective is needed.
Of the total abortion practice, abortions for rape account for a small percentage only. According to ethicist Charles C. Camosy, “about 1 percent of all abortions take place in situations where the mother was raped.” Thus, to justify the general abortion situation because of these few terrible cases is to commit the fallacy of hasty generalization.
Also, abortion does not undo the trauma of rape. The mother has been victimized—she needs care. Moreover, abortion can be traumatic, too. And abortion may be related to subsequent health problems. Abortion risks include breast cancer, premature birth (of subsequent children), and psychological problems. By seeing abortion as a solution to rape, we might victimize a woman (a second time).
Furthermore, to kill by abortion the human being conceived by the crime of rape is like killing an innocent bystander at the scene of a crime, a crime perpetrated by the bystander’s father. The father deserves (severe) punishment, not the child.
Moreover, the child’s voice should be heard. Significantly, there are people who have been conceived by rape and are now speaking out on behalf of those who cannot. Enter anti-abortion activist and attorney Rebecca Kiessling and company—people conceived via rape. Kiessling asks: “Have you ever considered how really insulting it is to say to someone, ‘I think your mother should have been able to abort you.’? It’s like saying, ‘If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.’” The child’s voice should be considered—so we should listen to those persons who were conceived via rape.
Rape justifies abortion? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Yes, rape is wrong, definitely, for sure, 100%. Yet there are also very good reasons for thinking rape shouldn’t justify abortion. What is certain is that rape doesn’t justify the general practice of abortion—not by a long shot. What is also certain is that the rapist deserves punishment and we shouldn’t victimize a woman twice by inflicting another trauma (or traumas) onto her. What is certain, too, is that we should speak for those who can’t, which includes the child conceived by rape. In thinking about whether rape justifies abortion, let’s be sure we don’t attempt to right a wrong by adding more wrongs.
1. Charles C. Camosy, Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation (Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 20. Camosy’s source is Lawrence B. Finer et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37:3 (2005), 113, https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/journals/3711005.pdf . The journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health is a publication of the Guttmacher Institute, which is a pro-choice organization.
2. See the documentary Hush: A Liberating Conversation about Abortion and Women’s Health, directed by Punam Kumar Gill (Mighty Motion Pictures, 2016). For trailer, see here: http://hushfilm.com/ . See too Angela Lanfranchi, Ian Gentles, and Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy’s book Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women (Toronto: DeVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, 2013).
3. See the video Conceived in Rape in which Rebecca Kiessling and other people conceived via rape speak out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Dal0opeSnQ . See too Kiessling’s website: https://rebeccakiessling.com/
Again, the point of my discussion of the situation of rape is to encourage critical thinking: to look at the pros and cons. I make this point because, in my experience, very few people (whether pro-choice or pro-life) have taken the time to look at the reasons for why rape might not justify abortion. It’s not just a question of mere logical consistency for the anti-abortion view, though that’s part of it. There are also reasons like the ones I set out. I want not to outright 100% dismiss whatever reasons an abortion-choice proponent might have (though I think, as the rest of my book shows, those reasons are weak); I want readers to consider the reasons for thinking why abortion may not be the solution. I want readers to think carefully.
I will note that I agree with the sentiment to err on the side of caution, which is why I argue that abortions at or near when fetuses become conscious or sentient could be wrong. Some pro-choice people want to argue or insist that no abortion could ever be wrong, but that’s not my view: some could be wrong, and so we should be cautious.
In reply, I appreciate and respect Nobis’s willingness to err on the side of caution to avoid the possibility of killing a person. He is against abortions of human beings that perhaps are conscious or sentient. For this, I am glad. Yet he goes on to permit the destruction of human fetuses earlier, when they are not conscious or sentient. In my view, those earlier fetuses have the inherent capacity to give rise to consciousness and sentience, though it’s not immediately exercisable but will be immediately exercisable if we don’t kill them. That makes them significant morally, it seems to me. And, it seems to me, it would be wise to err on not killing them.
Nobis also writes:
About the theory that everything that’s a rational substance is a person or everything with a rational human nature is a person (which is an alternative to the view that personhood is determined by having psychological characteristics), van der Breggen appeals to Francis Beckwith and Robert George, and he could also appeal to Christopher Tollefsen. I have reviews of their work on these issues which can help assess their broad proposal for what persons are; for another accessible brief critique of their general argument see here.
So I agree with van der Breggen that “To dismiss them and their views as unreasonable would be false as well as foolish.” However, to confidentially [sic] appeal to their authority without rigorously investigating critiques of these sorts of views would display the same vices. Nobody should do that do [sic].
In reply, I would still urge that we err on the side of caution. Nobis may be correct in his critiques of the works of Beckwith, George, etc., but he may be mistaken (as I and others think he is). As I point out in my previous replies to Nobis, because we’re talking about killing human beings who may be persons, we have to be sure that arguments which purport to show they aren’t persons are strong—really strong—and beyond reasonable dispute.
Enter my Hugely Important Point (that’s in my book but missed by Nobis, and which I presented in my previous replies to Nobis, and which I will post again here):
If my appeals to the insights from Beckwith, George, Kaczor, and others cast at least some significant doubt onto to the abortion-choice view (which I think they do, and more), then, it seems to me, we should err on the side of not killing what may or may very well be a person, especially since evidence points to it as being an actual human being (albeit a pre-natal human being) and since arguments against its personhood have problems. As I point out in my book’s introduction, in my book’s discussion of personhood, and in my book’s conclusion, it’s crucial, especially if one favours abortion-choice—which may kill a human person—to be sure that one’s arguments are solid. Indeed, as I point out repeatedly in my book, “If we aren’t sure whether a body is dead, we shouldn’t bury it. And if we aren’t sure whether what is moving in the bushes is a hunter or a deer, then we shouldn’t shoot it.”(Norman Geisler, cited in van der Breggen, on pages 3, 41, and 126.) In other words, we can rightly demand of abortion-choice advocates that they must have very strong arguments. The abortion-choice view, which permits the destruction of human beings, has the burden of proof to show—demonstrate—that arguments which purport to show that those human beings aren’t persons are beyond-a-reasonable-doubt strong. This is a matter of life and death, after all, and the arguments that permit choices for killing must be so convincing that no reasonable person would ever question them—just as in a conviction for a criminal case the evidence must be so convincing that no reasonable person would ever question the defendant’s guilt. I don’t think abortion-choice advocates have succeeded in showing this. As Beckwith, George, Kaczor, others, and I have argued, there are very reasonable doubts. (By the way, Beckwith and George and Kaczor are first-class philosophers. To dismiss them and their views as unreasonable would be false as well as foolish.)
I agree with Nobis that to accept anyone’s views without rigorously investigating critiques is important. I encourage readers to investigate the views of Beckwith, George, Kaczor, and company (and how I have employed them in my book), and I encourage readers to investigate Nobis’s critiques. Nevertheless, it seems to me, we must tread with great care and intellectual humility. Nobis might not agree with Beckwith, George, Kaczor, and company (and me), but the fact is that there is reasonable disagreement going on, which suggests a reasonable possibility of error. And, if there’s a reasonable possibility of error, it’s wise to err on not killing human beings, i.e., not kill human beings who may very well be persons. As history shows (and as I argue in my book), whenever some human beings have been excluded from the human family as non-persons, we have erred—and disastrously so. My book argues for caution and for an ethics of inclusion.
More could be said in reply to Nobis’s last response, but I’ll end here. It seems to me that, as I’ve argued above, Nobis’s criticisms of my work continue to be problematic.
Along with Dr. Nobis, I hope our discussion(s) will encourage careful thought about the abortion issue. I thank Dr. Nobis for the interaction and wish him—and all our readers—all and only the best!
Hendrik van der Breggen
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada. Hendrik is author of the book Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments: Critical Thinking about Abortion, available at Amazon.