The central issue is always what are the unborn and what are our obligations (if any) to them. So any appeal that centers on arguing that people in the past didn't believe the unborn were fully human and that abortion has always been common fails to address the central issue. It is no more decisive than arguing that prior to the 18th century slavery was widely embraced and had been historically accepted so the African slaves must be a class of human life we are allowed to enslave.
That said, there is wisdom in understanding the world we live in within the context of the events of the past that brought us to this moment. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” We wrestle with moral issues that are rooted in ancient questions but feel altogether new because the medical science and technologies that raise the questions are novel.
Also, the hole in our knowledge begs to be filled. As a result, myths framed as history can thrive in the absence of a substantial response. As Hadley Arkes says in Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, we end up absorbing the premises of the other side. He shares a story about Lincoln's aggravation with General Meade celebrating driving the Confederate invaders “from our soil.” Lincoln was said to have responded, “Will our generals never get that idea out of their heads? The whole country is our soil.” Dellapenna points out in Chapter 1 that “even strongly anti-abortion authors like George Will have reiterated the new orthodoxy, presumably because this spurious history has become so thoroughly embedded in the popular culture that it has taken on the aura of unquestionable truth.”
Considering the emphasis Blackmun placed on the historical argument justifying the majority decision in Roe v. Wade, it is important to examine what Dellapenna calls the new orthodoxy and see if the history of abortion framed by men like Cyril Means and James Mohr corresponds to the best evidence that we have available. Admittedly, this will not answer the question of whether or not abortion is wrong, but it may help us to understand where we find ourselves and how we got here. If we discover that our past is a bit more brutal than we hoped, it certainly would not be the first time that this was true. And as Christopher Kaczor points out in The Ethics of Abortion, if we are justified in treating another class of human beings in this manner, in defining them as something less than us, then it will be the first time in history that we were right.
As I reread Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, I'll simultaneously revisit Marvin Olasky's Abortion Rites and Arkes' Natural Rights and the Right to Choose. The blogging will follow Myths, but I'll frequently reference the others as well. I hope that this will serve to expose some fantastic work that others have done to correct the new orthodoxy while introducing many of you to books that have enriched my understanding of this issue.
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