Being Pro-Life Means Respecting Human Dignity

Cross-posted from Secular ProLife

We all know that the reason we consider ourselves pro-life is because we believe in respecting the life of the unborn. The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, so that is the right that holds the most weight in the moral equation. But did you know that the pro-life position is also the position that respects human dignity?

Human beings are rational agents. This means that we have a level of rationality, unmatched by any other creature in the animal kingdom, to contemplate ethics and act in a way that is either moral or immoral. And since we are rational creatures, we are also responsible for the choices that we make.

So the pro-life position entails that we not only protect human life, but we also protect human dignity. It does this in at least two ways:

1) By protecting unborn human beings.

By respecting the unborn’s right to life, we are also respecting their liberty. Since we understand that the right to life is a basic human right, established when the human comes to be at fertilization, this prevents us from mistreating the unborn. Most abortion methods are gruesome procedures, resulting in dismembering the unborn in the womb. We treat convicted murderers better than we treat the unborn. Even in the states where capital punishment is allowed, care is taken to put the criminal to death in a “humane” way. We don’t allow torturous capital punishment methods, like crucifixion or strapping someone to the rack and pulling them apart limb by limb. So protecting human life prevents us from torturing, killing, or otherwise mistreating the unborn.

2) By holding people responsible for their actions.

The pro-choice position entails that if a woman makes a “mistake” and gets pregnant, she can just undo the action by having an abortion and not being pregnant anymore. Obviously, one cannot reverse time. Having an abortion doesn’t erase the problem, it just compounds it by killing an innocent human being. But the pro-choice position is also problematic because it holds that a couple should not be held responsible for performing an act they knew could result in pregnancy, conceiving a human child.

If we don’t hold people responsible for their actions, not only are we treating them like children who “didn’t know any better,” we are not respecting their human dignity as rational beings. Rationality is an essential property of who you are; without your rational nature, you would not be “you” (in the same way, sweetness is an essential property of cookies; if you are baking a cookie and you put salt and not sugar in the mix, it will come out as salty and even though it will look like a cookie, it won’t really be a cookie). Since rationality is essential to being human, if we do not hold people responsible for their actions, we’re treating them as no better than lower animals, like dogs, who are not morally culpable for their actions. Not holding someone accountable for their actions is an affront to their very nature.

Much of my thought on ethics and human dignity have been influenced by Immanuel Kant (and philosophers who have been influenced by Kant). Here is a good essay to read for a little more information on Kant’s view of human dignity.

Now obviously the second point does not hold if a woman is raped, or if she is mentally challenged to the point where she doesn’t truly understand her actions. I would still argue that abortion is wrong in these cases, for other reasons (see my article here for my thoughts on abortions in the case of rape). But this is why it is so important that we end legalized abortion. Not only to protect the innocent unborn, but also because the very act of abortion is an affront to human dignity. The unborn deserve better. Women deserve better.

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