The Notre Dame Right to Life Club invited pro-life activist Kristan Hawkins on February 24 to address tactics for apologetic discourse. Members and friends of the club gathered for dinner and discussion with Hawkins, who is the executive director of Students for Life of America. She addressed ethical and philosophical arguments for and against abortion.
“I think a lot of students know why they’re pro-life, but have trouble verbalizing it,” said Right to Life Club President Samantha Stempky. “Kristan did a really good job of laying out common arguments and responses. She discussed most of the objections I’ve encountered, which was very helpful.”
At the most basic level, Hawkins suggested using the term “toddler” instead of “fetus.” For example, Hawkins asked if it was acceptable to murder a toddler when finances are tight. At one point should one draw the line?
Others could say that in the case of rape, a child would be a constant reminder of a painful experience. Hawkins countered this argument by describing a car accident in which your child was killed. If the other child in the vehicle survived the accident, do you have to right to murder him? To say a toddler has the right to life implies that a fetus does also.
Hawkins also cited scholarship in the field of embryology that supports the notion that life begins at the moment of conception.
Those arguing for abortion struggle to deny science, Hawkins argued, and to come up with other terms to dehumanize the unborn child like “zygote,” “embryo,” and, Planned Parenthood’s current favorite, “fertilized egg.”
Hawkins then put this scientific perspective into practice by addressing the “substance” argument. According to Hawkins, there is “no difference between the embryo you once were and the human you are today. The cells may be different, but that same person never ceased to exist.” The only differences can be summarized with the acronym SLED: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. Hawkins concluded by asking if an adult could kill a 10 year-old on the grounds that he is taller, more mature, or less dependent on others.
The substance argument led into Hawkins’ other fundamental question: What makes human life valuable? This question, Hawkins explained, cannot be answered by science because it is fundamentally metaphysical. Hawkins asserted that life can be defended no matter your religious belief, particularly because of the rights distinguished in the Declaration of Independence. “If you believe you are intrinsically valuable as a human being now, you were just as valuable as a preborn child,” said Hawkins. “Human are all equal by nature.”
Hawkins also discussed arguments in favor of abortion, such as those of philosopher Peter Singer, and Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “famous violinist” thought experiment. In this thought experiment, Thomson asks the reader to imagine waking up to find a famous violinist’s circulatory system plugged into his own. The violinist suffers from a severe kidney disease and will die unless he can make use of the reader’s body for 9 months. Thomson argues that the reader has a right to detach the violinist’s circulatory system from his own. If the reader were to allow the violinist to use his body in order to save his life, it would be out of altruism, not moral obligation.
Hawkins first explored the key differences between the violinist and a pre-born child. While the reader of the story is forced to provide for the violinist, a woman presumably knows the consequences of conceiving a child. According to Hawkins, “we do not have the right to create a person and then deny it human rights.”
Hawkins then turned away from philosophical discourse to address other objections. For example, pro-choice advocates claim that the legalization of abortion keeps women safe. Hawkins explained that medicine has advanced so far that this is an invalid argument; for example, women can now receive chemotherapy while pregnant.
According to Hawkins, one in two women today have personal experience with abortion, whether having or considering an abortion or knowing a relative or friend who has considered or had an abortion. Hawkins stressed attentive listening and concern for the victims of abortion and recommended reading pro-life authors like Francis Beckwith and Scott Klusendorf.
“Up until now, I’ve often tried to shy away from debates with pro-choicers because I couldn’t find the words to articulate my thoughts,” said freshman club member Mackenzie Woods. “The apologetics training supplied me with the necessary tools to stand up for my pro-life beliefs.”
For effective discourse, Hawkins advised building common ground and perserverence.
“You are planting the seed — some time, that seed will grow. You don’t know God’s plan for that person,” Hawkins said. “You are the ambassador for the unborn.”
Grace Urankar is a sophomore at Saint Mary’s College. Since recently declaring majors in religious studies and humanistic studies, she asks that suggestions regarding a life path be sent to email@example.com.