Choice, Personhood, and Back-Alley Abortions: Common Objections to the Pro-Life Position

What Would You Say?

Three of the most common objections to the pro-life position are… Abortion is a woman's private choice. Even if a fetus is human, it's not a person.  And, if you ban abortion, women will be forced to get dangerous, back-alley abortions that are medically unsafe. What would you say?

These arguments are known as the “privacy” objection, the “personhood” objection, and the “back-alley” objection. Often, abortion advocates will rattle them off all together, making their case seem strong. It’s not. The next time these objections come up in conversation, here are three things to remember: 
 When responding to the “privacy” objection, remember this:
Claiming that abortion is a woman's private choice ignores the status of the unborn. No one would ever cite privacy as a good reason to kill toddlers, teenagers, or adults - only the unborn. Which means the assumption is being made that the unborn are not human. To expose this assumption, say something like this: "You know, I actually agree with you. You're right that abortion is a private choice between a woman and her doctor. You're right that the government should stay out of her private decisions. You're right that pro-lifers should not question her private choices. Yes, you are right about all of that… IF. . . .IF what?  If the unborn are not human beings." Make no mistake: the issue that divides those who are against abortion and those who are for it is not privacy concerns. It’s whether or not it’s ok to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Pro-lifers agree that women should be allowed to make a number of private choices. But intentionally killing an innocent human being isn't one of them. 
 When responding to the “personhood” objection, remember this:
Claiming that a fetus is human but not a person is an assertion, not an argument, and it undermines human equality.  Why should anyone think there can be such a thing as a human who is not a person? Most of the time, when this claim is made in the case of the preborn, no argument is made to support it. It is merely asserted. Whenever this assertion comes up in a conversation, just reply: “What traits make a human a person?” Often, pro-abortion advocates will claim that personhood is grounded in consciousness, or an immediate capacity for self-awareness, or maybe, the ability to feel pain. But why are these traits the ones that give us value? In fact, traits of self-awareness might come and go in the course of our lifetimes, depending on our health or whether we are asleep. Will we lose our value? None of us share these traits equally, does that mean that those with more have a greater right to life than others with less? If that’s the case, you can throw human equality on the ash heap! Throughout history, some groups of people elevated other traits, such as I.Q., gender, or skin color, to diminish their value and oppress them. In short, either you believe that each and every human being is a person with an equal right to life or you don’t. When responding to the “back-alley” objection, remember this: The "back-alley" objection is based on a lie, assumes the unborn are not human, and demeans women. First, let’s set the record straight. Certainly SOME women died from illegal abortions prior to 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in a case called Roe v. Wade. But it was nowhere near 5,000 to 10,000 a year. Dr. Mary Calderone, Planned Parenthood's own medical director in the 1960s, said that the death rate from illegal abortion was so low it wasn't worth worrying about. Why? Because 90 percent of illegal abortions were performed by doctors in good standing in their communities--not back-alley butchers with rusty coat hangers.  Of course, any woman who dies from an abortion--legal or illegal--is a tragedy. Notice, however, how the "back-alley" objection, like most popular arguments for abortion, assume the unborn are not human. Essentially, the “back-alley” objection argues that because some people die attempting to intentionally kill innocent human beings, the state should then make it safer and legal. But, of course, the law should never make it easier or safer for one human being to intentionally kill another completely innocent one. And, let's be clear with our language: Women aren't forced to have illegal abortions. They choose to have them. To say otherwise is demeaning to women and calls into question their agency and self-control. Am I, as a woman, forced to rob a bank if my employer won't give me a raise? No. So, the next time somebody brings up the privacy objection, remember: Claiming that abortion is a woman's private choice ignores the status of the unborn. When someone brings up the “personhood” objection,” remember: Claiming that a fetus is human but not a person is an assertion, not an argument, and it undermines human equality.  When someone brings up the “the back-alley” objection,” remember that it is based on a lie, that it assumes the unborn are not human, and that it is demeaning to women. For What Would You Say, I’m Megan Almon.

Klusendorf, Scott. The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009.

Thank you to Scott Klusendorf and Megan Almon for their contributions to this video.