By Bonnie Finnerty, Education Director
It was a huge admission: a pro-abortion professor conceding that we are living human beings from the moment of fertilization.
How then could he justify abortion, the deliberate killing of that human life?
In a recent debate co-sponsored by Harvard Right to Life and Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Peter Singer laid out his case in defense of abortion, while pro-life apologist Stephanie Gray Connors offered strong argumentation against it.
It was a robust but civil exchange of opposing viewpoints. By the end, the absurdity of the argument for abortion was evident.
The resolution being debated was Abortion is Immoral. In her opening statement, Gray Connors offered two assumptions that she believes everyone can agree to:
- All humans are equal, and thus it is wrong to deliberately end the life of some humans.
- Parents have a responsibility to care for their children, not kill them.
Singer, however, disagreed that all humans are equal, claiming that in order to have moral standing, we must possess certain “capacities.” Since embryos and fetuses are not self-aware, do not have desires, and cannot plan for the future, he contends they have no moral standing.
He acknowledged that newborns do not possess these qualities, nor do some people with disabilities, and so he believes they also lack moral standing. Apparently, he is an advocate for infanticide and euthanasia as well.
When pressed, Singer acknowledged that a 2 year old might have moral standing, but he wasn’t sure about a 6 month old and would not draw any definitive line as to when we are “awarded” moral standing. Insisting that age is not the qualifying criteria as much as capacity, he said, for example, it would be morally acceptable to kill a 50 year-old who lacks self-awareness due to a brain injury.
In Singer’s world, it’s a very slippery slope. At any given time, you or I or he could lack moral standing based on an injury or illness. And we could be extinguished.
Gray Connors countered him by saying capacity to think is a function of age. A one-celled zygote does not yet have a developed brain that allows her to demonstrate her inherent capacities but by her very nature those capacities are still part of her human condition. It is time alone that will enable greater demonstration of her capacity. She is young, but she is not less.
In fact, Gray Connors stated that the notion of older humans killing younger humans because capacity is still developing is the ultimate form of ageism and bullying.
It is survival of the fittest mentality in which the powerful terminate the weak.
According to Gray Connors, Singer is exclusive, not inclusive; being human is not enough, we must be “human plus.” Further, she points out that capacity as a criteria for moral standing is arbitrary, as it can differ amongst individuals and even within a person’s lifetime.
Another revealing exchange concerned suffering. Singer admitted the issue is complicated when the fetus becomes pain-capable, which he sets at 27 weeks gestation (more recent research says much earlier). Rather than put a limit on abortion, Singer puts forth the idea of mitigating suffering by anesthetizing the fetus (and I suppose the newborn, disabled, elderly, etc.)
Singer believes if the fetus does not suffer pain, then it’s ok to kill her.
But as Gray Connors pointed out, something can be wrong even if it doesn’t involve suffering. She gave the example of a person who is undergoing surgery, sedated and unaware of a murderer in the operating room. By Singer’s criteria, this person lacks moral standing as well. Is it morally acceptable to kill him?
While Singer is a renowned animal rights activist who seeks to alleviate the killing and suffering of animals (who don’t have the capacity that he demands in humans), he is just fine with killing innocent children. In fact, he scolded Gray Connors who is pregnant with her first child for not being a vegan.
In her closing statement, Gray Connors stated we should strive to eliminate suffering but not the sufferers. She recounted her experience working in a failure-to-thrive clinic in Romania, where she cared for a baby girl suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome and weighing a mere 6 pounds at 6 months of age.
By being gently rocked and sung to, “she came alive with love.” Gray Connors was teary talking about how this one fragile little life, thought to be disposable by Singer, is now thriving.
How can anyone argue against that?
(The entire debate can be viewed at https://youtu.be/DB5IZXGmk08.)