Opinion

Abortion and the live-and-let-live ethic

Photo of David Christensen
David Christensen
Director of Congressional Affairs, Family Research Council

You’ve heard the saying “live and let live.” To a great extent, many Americans hold to some form of this ethic. It suggests a type of tolerance toward others. However, as everyone knows, there are limits to what you may do to others. For instance, you can’t dump your trash on your neighbor’s lawn. Where the limits should be drawn in a free society is often the focus of debate. So it is with abortion.

Pro-life Americans believe that all humans, regardless of size or age, deserve to live. More to the point, they believe the role of government is to protect life. What does the other side claim? They claim to be “pro-choice.” They claim not to support the killing of unborn children per se, but they think women should have that “choice.” It’s “live and let kill.”

I was keenly interested in a recent Buzzfeed article claiming that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, wants to “move beyond” the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” monikers. Their focus group testing suggests people do not support a “one size fits all” approach to the abortion issue, or at least the labels “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Many of the people in the focus groups said they support a situational or circumstantial ethic. Abortion may be wrong in some contexts, they think, but legitimate in others.

But what about letting folks live? What about that freedom? There’s an ethical issue to be sure, but also a factual one. Are unborn babies human? Are they alive? Do they, by extension, have a right to life? To hold the position of Planned Parenthood, one must either presume the baby is not alive or that it is not human and that therefore it does not have a right to life. Pro-lifers are quick to point out, correctly, that we live in an age of modern science, and that science demonstrates that unborn babies are indeed human. Not only do their hearts start beating at 22 days, at six weeks their eyes, eyelids, noses, mouths and tongues are formed. Brain activity is detected at six or seven weeks, and by 10 weeks a fetus’s movements are detected. Scientists have discovered that fetuses can feel pain, excruciating pain, as early as 20 weeks, which is why they are given anesthesia during prenatal surgery. Should such an entity be considered human and afforded rights? Pro-lifers say yes. Pro-choicers say no. Otherwise, the pro-choicer would hold the pernicious view that some humans do not have a right to life.

What to make of the disagreement? Pro-lifers want to correct Roe v. Wade, to return the legal debate over abortion to the states. In the meantime, pro-lifers want to pass laws that empower parents to know their teen girls may be seeking an abortion (many pro-choicers oppose such legislation), to notify women that their child at 20 weeks or more may feel pain and to stop the government from funding any abortion no matter how late in term the baby has developed.