Not too long ago, I organized a large pro-life outreach at California State University San Marcos. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a well known pro-life organization, brought its Genocide Awareness Project display to the campus this past February. A number of us participated in the display, and it sparked a fairly large counter-protest. The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) is a series of banners depicting the aftermath of abortion, comparing the way dehumanization has affected large groups of people, and explaining how abortion is a form of dehumanization.
In the midst of all the discussions that happened as a result of the display, a common objection that kept being brought up was that pro-life conservatives were inconsistent for opposing government aid for foreign refugees, while still arguing that the unborn should be cared for instead of being killed through elective abortion. A slogan that has made the rounds through discussions of abortion, whether online or in person, is that “If you think fertilized eggs are people, but refugee kids aren’t, then your concerns aren’t religious.”
Many pro-choicers use this objection to try and silence the opposition or to turn members of a listening audience against the pro-lifer’s arguments by focusing on the character of the pro-lifer instead of refuting the material presented. They do this while ignoring that abortions are not performed at the moment of conception but many weeks or even months afterward. Along with this, science tells us that the unborn entity in question is a full, yet immature, member of the human species. If it is wrong to intentionally harm an innocent human being, then it would be wrong to harm the unborn for the same reason it is wrong to intentionally harm any other innocent human being, such as innocent people fleeing the violence of their home country.
Given how bad this objection really is, I would rather ignore it. But many pro-life advocates have come across this objection while trying to understand how to answer it, so I decided it was time to lay out a response.
First, what does the objection assume? Instead of focusing on the status of the unborn, which is the key to the abortion debate, it simply ignores the issue altogether and attacks the person arguing in favor of the unborn’s moral worth. One young woman I spoke to said that people who are opposed to abortion are inconsistent for calling themselves “pro-life” while opposing aid for foreign refugees. However, this doesn’t follow. The abortion debate is not about who we are trying to support, but about who (or what) we are going to intentionally kill. Likewise, the debate over the refugee problem is not about who we are going to intentionally harm, but is about whether harm will unintentionally result from our care of foreign refugees, and whether that will be worth the risk.
Second, so what? Suppose pro-lifers really are inconsistent, heartless, and cruel when it comes to other issues. What exactly does that prove? That people who oppose abortion aren’t perfect? Furthermore, imagine saying to Civil Rights advocates in the 1960s, “How can you say that you are for Civil Rights when there are children being killed daily in the Vietnam War? You aren’t really for Civil Rights. You’re just anti-segregation!” Absurd, right? Here’s another example: Peter Singer and Michael Tooley both argue that newborns are not fully persons until a certain time after birth, and are therefore able to be justly killed. Imagine saying to someone, “Unless you are concerned about the plight of Middle Eastern refugees, you have no basis in opposing parents wanting to kill their newborns. You aren’t pro-child, you’re just anti-infanticide!”
The objection treats the unborn as if they are not fully human. No one in their right mind would use this argument to silence those who oppose the mistreatment of other human beings. It only makes sense if the unborn are not human. If the unborn are not human, then it makes perfect sense to abandon the fight against abortion and turn our efforts to helping alleviate the suffering from other acts of evil. But if the unborn are human, then this objection is nothing more than a callous dismissal of the moral issues involved in abortion. Such reasoning is cold and foolish.
Finally, it’s not entirely clear what is meant by “helping” refugees. To what extent would pro-lifers, and conservatives in general, have to support foreign refugees in order for the Left to reconsider its own stance on the abortion issue? Do pro-lifers have to build houses and schools for people who emigrate to the US, before we can condemn abortion? And why does the only valid option intended to “help” refugees involve bringing them to the United States? Suppose pro-lifers want to care for them where they are at, or think that the defeat of ISIS is the best way to help people displaced by the war overseas? (Personally, I don’t think the situation will end until the war is over, and ISIS has been defeated.) Once all of these things have been done, will abortion suddenly become wrong? Will the person making this remark reconsider the morality of abortion, and the evidence for the humanity of the unborn once pro-lifers are acting “consistently”? I've yet to meet someone who said that they would.
The objection is nothing more than an appeal to emotion, in order to distract from the main issues at stake in the abortion debate: What are the unborn, and should we be killing them? It is an example of the ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than attacking the argument.
Nevertheless, those who are outraged at the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East are perfectly right to feel compassion for those most affected by it. We should debate what the best methods are to bring an end to the disaster and show the love of Christ to those in need. But that does not, in any way, mean that those who disagree about the methods used are inconsistent in strongly opposing abortion. After all, if abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being, then we have a massive humanitarian crisis within our own borders. Anyone concerned about the lives of the innocent that are being lost overseas should be concerned as well by the loss of life through elective abortion.