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Christian Union
June 14, 2015

Princeton University Fellow Examines Key Questions

by Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

All humans possess a right to life, which forms the basis for the related principles of freedom and safety.

Philosophers seem uniformly to embrace that moral fundamental, but they continue to debate vigorously just when the right to life actually begins. Many ethical philosophers claim it begins during the later stages of pregnancy, while a minority point to conception.

During an appearance for Princeton Pro-Life, a visiting fellow at Princeton University did his part to probe some of the key questions in the ongoing debate over the timing and conditions that establish the right to life.

Christopher Kaczor delivered a thought-provoking lecture entitled The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice and fielded a plethora of student queries on April 30 in Guyot Hall.

Kaczor, a professor at Loyola Marymount University and a frequent commentator, spent a large percentage of his talk dissecting the arguments of the moral ethicists behind a 2012 article entitled "After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?"

In the article for Journal of Medical Ethics, Professors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva asserted newborn babies are not "actual persons" and do not hold a "moral right to life."

The pair postulated the moral status of an infant is "equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual."

Giubilini and Minerva equate personhood with the capability of sensing loss and an awareness of existence. As such, the scholars assert no harm is done in a painless and unanticipated death.

Kaczor told Princeton students that Giubilini and Minerva, in their writings, declined to specify exactly when it begins to be wrong to kill a baby.

From Kaczor's perspective, what is relevant in determining whether someone has been wronged of a core right is not deprivation of desire but, rather, the denial or loss something good and essential, such as life.

A person is not merely his or her memories, beliefs, and desires. Rather, harming an individual's body amounts to hurting the person as an entity, Kaczor said.

Taking his arguments a step further, Kaczor noted killing can still be wrong if a victim does not desire to live. Likewise, harm still takes place even if a being does not experience momentary pain during a fatal event.

For Kaczor, fundamental legal rights are not dependent upon desire. Rather, a person represents a moral category, a being with a right to life. "It is the loss of the good of life, not the interference with the desire for that good, that constitutes the harm and, hence, the wrong done," Kaczor said.

The loss of what is good is an issue, not the thwarting of desire, Kaczor said.

Also during his appearance with Princeton Pro-Life, Kaczor took aim at the writings of philosopher David Boonin, who ties the right to life to any conscious desire. Boonin, the author of A Defense of Abortion, postulates conscious desires begin between 25 to 32 weeks after fertilization.

Furthermore, Kaczor probed at Boonin's assertions that the right to life is "not the same as the right to be kept alive by another person." For Boonin, "disconnecting" the unborn by abortion is permissible, and the University of Colorado professor differentiates between active killing and withholding care.

Kaczor spent much of the rest of the evening pointing to the weaknesses of some non-philosophical arguments by abortion advocates.

In particular, history shows proponents of the ethics of exclusion are invariably proven wrong, especially when it comes to matters of race, heritage, gender, and faith. "Every single time we've practiced the ethics of exclusion, we've been wrong," Kaczor said.

Likewise, many of the justifications for abortion fall apart in light of the moral responsibilities parents have to their children, especially to protect, nurture, and support.

"Biological mothers have very serious duties to their own children," Kaczor said. "Do we have a duty, even in very challenging, trying situations, to avoid evil? I would say, 'yes.'"

Much of Kaczor's reasoning resonated with the students who attended the lecture. "Many people who were unsure of how to defend their pro-life beliefs felt more at ease and confident that they would be able to defend them in the future," said Elly Brown '18, president of Princeton Pro-Life.

Likewise, there are a "number of philosophical, secular arguments for the defense of life. Knowing those arguments is essential to engaging others — especially on a campus like Princeton's — and showing the soundness of a pro-life worldview."

Kaczor echoed that hopeful note, noting he senses a shift in public opinions, especially among the young, on the morality of abortion, despite more than four decades of legalized abortion in the United States. "I see a lot of hope in the younger generation," he said.