Antidote to abortion arguments

A review of Politically Correct Death by Dr Francis Beckwith
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993.

reviewed by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, 2002


An indispensable work for anyone concerned about the number of babies killed in their mother’s womb, refuting just about every “justification” for this politically sanctioned and taxpayer-funded slaughter of the innocents. It is unfortunately out of print.


Abortion has been one of the most important ethical issues in Western society for the last three decades. Many people, sadly including many Christians, think abortion is a difficult and controversial issue. But there should be no difficulty or controversy at all—there are only two issues to consider:

  1. Is the unborn child (“fetus”) a human being?

  2. If so, is it ever acceptable to kill the unborn?

The answer to both questions is clear from the Bible, starting in Genesis. Genesis 25:21–22 states: “and Rebekah his [Isaac’s] wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; …” Note that Rebekah’s unborn twins, Jacob and Esau, are referred to as “children” (the Hebrew word used, banim, is the usual word for sons after birth). Unborn babies are not disposable clumps of tissue, despite the claims of many pro-abortionists. And they are always human right from fertilization, because all the DNA coding needed to build each individual’s physical features is there in the fertilized egg. It is absolutely false that the developing human goes through any fish or reptile stage, despite some blatantly fraudulent evolutionary claims (see “Fraud Rediscovered” for the shocking truth, with photographic documentation). No, the Bible, supported by science, teaches that the unborn baby is a human child (see also Psalm 139:13–16, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:41–44).

The second question is also answered consistently throughout Scripture, again starting from Genesis. Genesis 1:26–29 and 2:7–23 make it clear that man was created distinct from the animals, made in God’s image. Only one generation later, Cain committed the first murder, a destruction of this image, thus a grievous affront to God. After God judged mankind’s violence in the global Flood of Noah’s day, God instituted the death penalty for murder precisely because it destroyed this image of God (capital punishment is outside the scope of this review, but see JP Holding’s outline at Life for a Life).

Right throughout Scripture, murder—that is, the intentional killing of innocent humans—is regarded as a heinous sin (Exodus 20:13—for explanation that the basic meaning of the Hebrew ratsach is killing in the manner of a predatory animal, see Thou Shalt Not What? See also Matthew 19:18, Romans 13:9). Since abortion kills an innocent human being, it is nothing less than murder.

The book

This book by an eminent Christian philosopher, Francis Beckwith, supports the traditional Christian pro-life position based on those two main premises: that human life begins at conception (fertilization) and that it is wrong to take this life except where the mother’s actual life is in danger (see this response for explanation of the exception).

Beckwith thoroughly refutes pro-abortion arguments, both the popular rhetoric in the media and political circles, as well as the sophisticated philosophical arguments by more intellectual abortion advocates (who are contemptuous of much popular pro-abortion “reasoning”). He knows how to use logical arguments to show that pro-abortionists use both false premises and invalid reasoning from both false and true premises to support their view. There is even a chapter refuting an article purporting to be “A Pro-Choice Bible Study”, which makes most of the same fallacious arguments at those so called “religious tolerance” persons (who are actually intolerant of biblical absolutes) and the assorted bibliosceptics who are refuted at Aborted Exegesis. Finally there is a fictional Socratic dialogue aimed to support nonviolent civil disobedience such as Operation Rescue.

By focusing on the key issues, Beckwith shows how all the usual “hard cases” pushed by pro-abortionists fall flat. We should likewise return to the key issue, of the humanity of the unborn, which Beckwith defends. Since we’ve established that the unborn really is human, we can show how horrific the usual pro-abortion arguments are as we legitimately substitute “unborn baby” with a two-year-old (“2yo”) in the following arguments, therefore undercutting the gut-wrenching heart tugs that pro-abortionists use (the technical term for this informal logical fallacy is argumentum ad misericordiam, or Appeal to Pity):

A 2yo is so disruptive and causing such heartache for his solo mother that she wants him killed, and people support her “right to choose” to kill her own child in the following ways (paralleling many “pro-choice” arguments):

  • How dare you pass judgment on the woman, when you have no idea what she’s going through?
  • You’re a male, so you have no right to comment.
  • It’s the right of every 2yo to be wanted.
  • No one’s forcing you to kill your own 2yo.
  • Keep your church out of my home!
  • We’re not pro–killing-2yos, we’re pro-choice.
  • We want to make 2yo-killing safe, legal and rare.
  • If we make laws against this, then those who are rich enough will be able to hire a hit man to kill the toddler, while the poor could not afford this, so such laws would discriminate against the poor.
  • Unless you are prepared to adopt this child, you have no right to tell the mother that she should not kill her.
  • If we don’t make it possible for the mother to kill her 2yo safely, then she’ll do it unsafely and possibly put her own health in danger.
  • Laws against 2yo-killing would violate the woman’s right to privacy, which judges tell us is in the US Constitution.
  • It’s speciesist to give a Homo sapiens 2yo so much more protection than a chimpanzee 2yo.
  • You’re opposed to killing 2yos only because you’re a religious fanatic.
  • The child was conceived by incestuous rape, and her existence is a continual reminder to her mother of what happened, so she should die because of her father’s crime.
  • Stem cells could be harvested from this 2yo that could help cure many horrible diseases and disabilities—you religious fanatics want to stop this scientific research and cut off all hope of a cure for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Parkinson’s, quadriplegia and diabetes.

Beckwith’s book has been very useful to me recently in my own writing projects on topics like embryonic stem cells and other articles at Q&A: Abortion, which also hyperlinks to some of Beckwith’s earlier articles on which this book is largely based. Beckwith already anticipated such specious arguments such as,

  • “Identical twins prove that life doesn’t begin at conception.” (Twinning may be a form of asexual reproduction, where one embryo divides into two, but this doesn’t mean that s/he wasn’t an individual before then.)
  • “The early embryo doesn’t look human.” (Yes it does—just the way it should look at that age. Also, appearances are deceptive—statues and store mannequins look human, but are not; abnormal-looking humans like the “elephant man” are still human.)
  • “Most zygotes never make it to term.” (All humans have virtually a 100% mortality rate, but this doesn’t mean it’s OK to actively murder someone!)
  • The Clintonian pseudo-biblical argument that the account of Adam’s creation shows that life begins when breathing starts. (First, unborn babies do “breathe” or at least respire, just not through their lungs. Secondly, the creation of Adam and Eve was a special case—“neither of them had mothers or came from an embryo, so it’s illegitimate to extrapolate from their example. It would be just as [il]logical to claim that since they began lives as adults, human life today doesn’t begin till adulthood!)

This is easily the most comprehensive pro-life defence around, so is very important for Christians. This is not to say that it’s totally without flaws, although they are not enough to detract from a strong recommendation.

Unborn baby at various stages of development
Unborn baby at various stages of development.

One obvious deficiency is the lack of pictures, which are often highly effective in convincing the general public of the humanity of the unborn (e.g., right).

I also think Beckwith deals unfairly with the adoption argument on p. 15. Of course, if the unborn baby is human and murder is wrong, this would not change even if there were no couples willing to adopt. But the point of the adoption argument is well in line with what Beckwith practises so effectively—both demonstrating the falsity of the premise(s) as well as showing that the conclusion would not follow even if the premise(s) were true. So the adoption argument is really demonstrating that the pro-death premise “there are many unwanted babies” is false, without conceding at all the inference “if a baby is not wanted, then it can be killed”.

Also there is some downplaying of the need for an objective moral lawgiver who has revealed His will in the Bible. When evolution has replaced the Bible as the authority, anything goes. This is epitomised by the neo-Nazi views of Peter Singer who supports infanticide of physically “defective” infants and elderly people with Alzheimer’s—because in an evolutionary worldview, there is nothing to say that human life is any more sacred than animal life. This is why it’s not always enough to show that the baby is human. (For an absolutely horrifying example of how low organized humanism can stoop because of their godless framework for ethics, the international Humanist values and ethics convention Australis2000 held in Sydney, Australia, invited Vern Bullough, the Humanist pedophile advocate and an editor of Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia, as a speaker.)

But I repeat, this book is probably the single most valuable specialist defence of the pro-life view around, so is essential reading for all those who wish to stand up for unborn babies.