The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

You don’t matter just because I care


We can’t erase the fact that abortion is homicide just because we aren’t as attached to the unborn as we are to other humans. The truth is that whether or not your life has value, and whether or not you are disposable, cannot be determined by how I feel about you.

There’s a view that pro-lifers (those who think it is wrong to kill unborn humans) are ignoring the reality that the death of an unborn child is less tragic than the death of somebody else. The death of an unborn is not the death of a human – not really – and actually we all know it, because we react differently to the death of an unborn child than to the death of somebody else. So wrote one blogger:

If you try to get pregnant and fail, it is frustrating. If you have a heavy menstruation slightly late, suggesting that fertilization occurred but the pregnancy failed very early on, it is even sadder. But it is not the same as managing to be pregnant for several months and then finding that the fetus has died. And that in turn is nowhere near as tragic as having your delivery date arrive and the child be stillborn.

Mothers know this. Fathers who’ve experienced any aspect of this know it too. And so how can so many people nonetheless accept the stark and unnuanced claim that “abortion is murdering babies” without a blink?

We can quickly brush aside the straw man that pro-lifers (namely, those who oppose abortion because it takes a life) are insensitive, mouth-breathing knuckle draggers who can’t make any differentiation between the feelings of parents who suffer a stillbirth and those of parents who fail to get pregnant. The phraseology that the writer uses to describe the position of pro-lifers, a “stark and unnuanced claim” that “abortion is murdering babies,” should also be seen as an attempt to portray pro-lifers in language that they, as a rule, don’t use in the way suggested.

But what pro-lifers do – again, as a rule – express is the position that abortion is unjustified homicide. And it is the pro-life position that the writer thinks he can undermine by pointing out that parents feel differently about the loss of their unborn thing (let’s avoid “baby” talk, shall we?) at different stages in the pregnancy.

The mistake – and I think it is a relatively obvious one – is that there is a basic distinction between how we feel about or react to a death and the objective reality of what has taken place. What mothers and fathers “know” here is just that they feel differently, not that one situation involves the loss of human life but the other doesn’t. As I noted in the comments section:

Of course pro-lifers know that we react differently to losing an X (I use that term because any other term would provoke an objection from somebody) very early in the pregnancy and losing an X much later. The psychological reaction is bound to be very strong.

But to infer on this basis that Mums and Dads know that an early embryo has no human status and is disposable is worse than the hardline fundies you devote yourself to railing against. No, Mums and Dads know that they feel differently about the loss. That’s the difference. And it’s not because of their theory of personhood. It’s because they’ve been waiting longer for baby to arrive and their expectation of the baby being born alive and healthy grows as the pregnancy progresses.

Unmoved, the writer protested that “We do not mourn the death of a loved one as differently regardless whether the person is 5, 15, or 25,” as though this somehow undercut my objection. It doesn’t, and I explained why, but I think the issue matters enough to share it here, too.

The truth is that we do mourn differently over death at different stages – and different circumstances – of life. We really do – just look around! The way a mother might sob over her dead 4 year old killed in an accident, “my little baby, my baby!” is different from the way she might mourn her mother, 90 years old, after a long and fulfilled life. This is because her hopes and expectations in each case were different. The way I would mourn if my 18 year old died of a drug overdose is different from the way I would react if I just now discovered that I *had* an 18 year old son out there in the world, who has just died. This is because of my history with the person who dies and my attachment to them.

The reason and the way we mourn death is brought about by all kinds of things: Our history and experience with the one who has died and so the connections we have formed with them, our expectations of a future with that person and the time we have spent building those expectations etc. But our own psychological response to a death is not at all a measure of whether or not a life worthy of protection has been lost. My feelings about you do not set your worth.

Glenn Peoples


Coming out


Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy


  1. Tedford Hyde

    I agree with you Glenn, 100%. Very spot on and persuasive.

  2. Stephen

    This is one of those arguments where I have serious doubts that the other side spent even 10 seconds trying to think of any possible holes in it. I’ve suffered far more anguish over the loss of my dog than, say, the news that hundreds of Koreans perished when their ferry sank. But would any sane person think this had any relevance whatsoever to a discussion about the value of life? It may say a lot about human psychology, but it says nothing about the value of human life.

  3. Gary

    Having grown up as an evangelical Christian with strong anti-abortion views, this is one issue about which I and my liberal, atheist friends butt heads. Although I no longer believe that any human being has a “soul”, I do believe in the value of human life. I am a humanist. All human life has value. All human life deserves to be given the same dignity and respect that we expect for ourselves. Too many liberals and atheists ignore the human rights issue when discussing abortion.

    With that said, why do I still support keeping abortion legal…with restrictions?

    The explanation is complicated but here it goes: In the rare situations in which the birth of a baby will result in the death of the mother, but the killing of the baby would allow the mother to live, what is the moral thing to do? I would bet that most conservative Christians would say, “Let God decide (do nothing and see what happens). Don’t kill the baby.” But what if the baby is so severely deformed that it is clear to the doctors that the child will most definitely not survive the birthing process? If they “do nothing”, both the mother and the child will die. In this situation, isn’t the moral option to terminate (kill) the hopelessly deformed child to save the mother? Someone is going to die but you have the option of saving at least one of them. What would you do?

    Although I would prefer that no abortions take place, a two day old embryo is not going to suffer if it is “killed”. So I will not oppose a woman’s right to terminate a two day old pregnancy. A two week old embryo is not going to suffer if it is killed. So I will not oppose a woman’s right to terminate a two week old pregnancy. And, the majority of medical experts agree that there is no evidence that a five month old (20 weeks) fetus perceives pain. I will not oppose a woman’s right to terminate a 20 week old pregnancy. But that is where I draw the line. No abortions after 20 weeks of gestation unless the mother’s life is in danger.

    • So, supposedly not feeling pain is justification for killing a human (and an innocent one at that)? The ruling elites will be glad to hire you to administer the morphine when they start killing us all for their nefarious plans…

  4. Gary

    Hi Tedford.

    It is a tough issue. What is your position on terminating a pregnancy to save a mother’s life, in particular, if the woman in question is someone you love such as your wife or daughter?

  5. It’s not a “tough issue”. And abortion on demand has nothing to do with your hypothetical question.
    Are you a Christian? Do you even believe the Bible?

    • gary

      The point of my question is to determine whether you believe that there is ever a justification for killing an infant. If you say that you would not terminate (kill) a fetus to save your wife or daughter’s life, then you can claim to be consistent in your belief that it is always immoral to target a child for killing. If, however, you are a person who would make an exception for the life of the mother, then you are someone who opposes the targeted killing of children except in this one instance. I will bet that there are a considerable number of conservative Christians who would support an abortion to save the life of their wife or daughter. That is why I say that this issue is complicated or tough.

      No, I am not a Christian. I am an ex-Christian. I believe that the Bible is of great literary and cultural value but I do not believe that it is the inspired word of a god.

  6. Sorry to hear that…

    • Gary

      I’d be curious of your take on the morality of Saul’s slaughter of the Amalekite children and infants.

    • I have a “take” on that. But you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Think on that and know that your destiny is more important. This will end my correspondence with you.

  7. Gary

    Someone above said that “the other side” has probably not spent 10 minutes considering the issue. I have. I have spent a lot of time considering this issue. And what I have concluded is this: Someone who justifies the targeted killing of infants in their holy book (such as King Saul’s slaughter of children and infants at the command of Yahweh) has no business condemning a woman today for having an abortion.

  8. Gary

    “But you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Think on that and know that your destiny is more important.”

    Having been in your shoes and having used this expression on unbelievers myself when I was a Christian, I understand that you made this warning with all sincerity and with a lack of malice. However, you should know that to skeptics, this statement is taken as a sign of fear on the part of the theist, whether that theist is a Christian, Muslim, or Mormon. What we hear is, “I can’t counter your argument with good evidence, so I’m going to shake my tom toms, stick needles into voodoo dolls, and pronounce some scary sounding chants of doom upon you to win the argument”.

    If your religion were the only exclusivist religion on the planet which threatens eternal gloom and doom for not being a member, I would seriously consider being a member just to hedge my bet. However, your religion is not the only exclusivist religion on the planet, therefore there is no safe bet. You can’t be a devout Christian, a devout Mormon, a devout Muslim, and a devout Hindu, etc., all at the same time. Therefore there is not safe bet. One therefore needs to base his (or her) decision on this issue based on evidence, not based on the fear of being wrong. And the evidence for Christianity is not good. The majority of scholars, including the majority of Roman Catholic scholars who very much believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Christians therefore have zero confirmed eyewitness testimony of anyone claiming to have seen a walking/talking (resurrected) corpse.

    Thousands of people down through history have claimed to have received an appearance by a dead loved one or friend. Such claims have never been seen as good evidence that the deceased loved one was actually alive again. Believe in the supernatural claims of Christianity, including a scary afterlife for non-believers like myself, based on blind faith if you wish, but don’t claim to do so by good evidence…unless you can provide something new that the rest of conservative/traditional Christianity has not yet presented.

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