Peter Kreeft, Three Approaches to Abortion

San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002
135 pages, $9.95 (U.S.)

Peter Kreeft is a prolific and successful writer on philosophical and religious subjects; the back cover of this book informs us that he has published over 25 books and that a number of these are bestsellers. The preface reveals how well-organized and methodical he is. He has two categories of readers in mind – pro-life and pro-choice; three angles – impersonal, personal, and interpersonal; and his book has three parts:

1. “The Apple Argument Against Abortion,” which argues logically in 15 steps, from the premise that we know what an apple is, to the conclusion that abortion must be outlawed.

2. “Why We Fight: A Pro-Life Motivational Map,” which consists of 15 motives that fuel pro-life work; and

3. “What Happens When an Irresistible Force Meets an Immovable Object: A Typical Pro-life/ Pro-choice Dialogue,” which addresses the 15 most common pro-choice arguments.

His starting an argument with an apple, and his repeated use of ’15,’ shows clearly that he is not without a puckish sense of humour.

Pro-choicers say that pro-lifers are too dogmatic; how can they possibly say that abortion is a clear evil? But, says Kreeft, I have never heard that argument used against slavery or genocide or racism. That means that we do have a clear and certain knowledge about the goodness or evil of certain things. We really know what some things really are; we all know what an apple is. Similarly, we know what human beings are. We also know that they have certain rights in virtue of their being human beings.

Kreeft contends that there are three essential premises of the pro-life argument: one scientific, one moral and one legal. The scientific premise is that the life of an individual member of every animal species, and therefore of the human species, begins at conception, when a genetically complete individual first comes into existence. So all humans are human, whether they are old or young, fetal or embryonic. The moral premise is that all humans have the right to life because they are human. The legal premise is that the law must protect the most basic human rights.

There are only three reasons why anyone can be pro-choice: scientific ignorance, moral ignorance or legal ignorance. Most people do not want to argue about abortion logically, because they instinctively see that the only way to remain pro-choice is to abort their reason and conscience first. That is the central part of an interesting, intricate and convincing argument.

When it comes to motives for pro-life activity, Kreeft concentrates on the subjective, personal, and psychological factors: the search for meaning in our lives, our sense of obligation, our desire for honesty, our sense of patriotism, our desire to save civilization and so on.

One interesting factor is sex: Kreeft claims that, paradoxically, we fight for life because we love, respect and fight for sex. “Abortion,” he writes, “is the sacrament of the Sexual Revolution. Abortion, as last-ditch birth control, frees women to have sex without babies and frees men even more from sexual responsibility.” So we are pro-life “to save sex from the Sexual Revolution.”

His final, and non-negotiable reason, is the image of God. “Here we stand. We cannot do otherwise. God help us.”

The last 60 pages of this book are devoted to dialogue between two characters Kreeft has introduced in another book, A Refutation of a Moral Relativism. Libby, the pro-choicer, is a “sassy, classy black feminist,” and Isa, the pro-lifer, is a “Muslim fundamentalist philosopher.” Their discussion brings in “the 15 most common pro-choice arguments.” Libby gives arguments which sound plausible, and it is not easy for Isa to sift out what is wrong from what is right. She accuses him of defining the term “person” in a biological way, which he denies – the important thing is that all human beings have souls. But how does he know that a zygote has a soul?

“Did you get a letter from God about it? Do you see a label on the zygote saying: ‘Warning: Contents Contain One Soul?'” He hasn’t got a letter from God; he is absolutely sure that a zygote has a soul … “but we had better presume that it has one,” he says, “and not kill the fetus because we may be taking innocent human life and therefore committing murder.”

In the end, Libby says, “I guess we just have to agree to disagree, and understand that there can’t really be an open dialogue.” Isa replies, “No we don’t. We can be bothered that we differ, if we both love truth. And if we believe in truth, how can we give up dialoguing, no matter how hard it is?” She responds with, “We can give up whenever our author stops writing.” And to this, he retorts, “But our readers can’t, until they stop thinking.”

In this book, Kreeft encourages us to stretch our minds, to bring thought to bear on issues of truth and freedom, on what it means to make responsible moral choices. As always, Kreeft can certainly be called thought-provoking. Even those who have been involved in the abortion wars for years will find plenty of illumination here.