Friday, February 05, 2016

Christopher Hitchens Against Abortion

La Jolla, California

The late atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote an essay in Vanity Fair against abortion. Here are some quotes, with some parenthetical comments inserted. (Hitchens, "Fetal Distraction," February 2003) Remember that Hitchens was pretty much his own person and didn't much care whEther his views were shared by others, to include other atheists.

"I claim an absolute right to be interested in the condition of the human fetus because … well, I used to be one myself. I was in my early teens when my mother told me that a predecessor fetus and a successor fetus had been surgically removed, thus making me an older brother rather than a forgotten whoosh. I hope the thought of this hasn’t made me unusually self-centered, or more than usually so. And I’ve since become the father of several fetuses, three of which, or perhaps I had better say three of whom, became reasonably delightful children."

[Some abortion advocates liken the fetus to an appendix, or a tumor. Hitchens responds.] "If we need to remove an appendix or a tumor from our own personal spaces, then it’s nobody else’s *** business. I used to cringe when I heard this, not so much because in the moral sense fetuses aren’t to be compared to appendixes, let alone tumors, but because it is obvious nonsense from the biological and embryological points of view. Babies come from where they come from. The diagram of a vacuum-suction abortion in Our Bodies, Ourselves gave the female anatomy in some detail but showed only a void inside the uterus. This perhaps unintended concession to queasiness has since become more noticeable as a consequence of advances in embryology, and by the simple experience of the enhanced sonogram. Women who have gazed at the early heartbeat inside themselves now have some difficulty, shall we say, in ranking the experience with the planned excision of a polyp."

[Hitchens responds to the pro-abortion idea of "viability."] "Now and then there would be a tussle over whether it [the fetus; even the conceptus] was a fully “human” life, but this was casuistry. What other species of life could it be? Some states even announced laws on fetal personhood, conferring the moral equivalent of citizenship on every fertilized egg, thereby presumably extending to it the warm embrace of the equal-protection clause and voting rights at age 17¼.
That the most partially formed human embryo is both human and alive has now been confirmed, in an especially vivid sense, by the new debate over stem-cell research and the bioethics of cloning. If an ailing or elderly person can be granted a new lease on life by a transfusion of this cellular material, then it is obviously not random organic matter. The original embryonic “blastocyst” may be a clump of 64 to 200 cells that is only five days old. But all of us began our important careers in that form, and every needful encoding for life is already present in the apparently inchoate. We are the first generation to have to confront this as a certain knowledge."

[Human life begins at conception. But of course! It's not nice to take another human life.] "For the theologically minded, this provides what they never much desired before: a scientific confirmation of “life from conception” morality."

The rest of Hitchens's essay is interesting as he obviously distances himself from theism, is guilty of some red herrings, and engages in appeal-to-pity reasoning re. human beings who are conceived as the result of rape or incest.

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Hitchens's reasoning has similarities with Baylor University philosopher and jurisprudential scholar Francis Beckwith. See my Beckwith post - Beckwith's Logical Argument Against Abortion.