It has long been a mystery to many pro-lifers why so-called animal rights advocates can be so concerned about the lives of animals yet in many cases justify aborting the lives of prenatal human babies. Some thoughts on this follow which were originally set forth in a letter to an Internet acquaintance.
Every reason to have an abortion is a good one to the person who wants one and there is only one overwhelming reason not to. Although our opponents' concerns are often valid, they often share in common some mistaken and dangerous ideas. These may include their philosophy which I detailed in my essay "Abortionism: America's New Established State Religion" and the "Glossary of Abortionism." Their philosophy is that fundamental human rights are not intrinsic with human lives (contrary to the philosophy the nation was founded on) but granted or denied by the powerful based on whatever criteria the powerful choose to recognize. It is simply might makes right dressed up in the politically correct fads and rationalizations of our modern day.
To the animal rights advocates the key criterion for rationalizing the dehumanization and destruction of others (in this case the unborn) is cognition or sentience -- the capability to sense or feel. They see many higher forms of animal life as possessing this capability and prenatal human lives as lacking it in the earliest stages. To be more charitable about it, they have some real difficulty identifying with the unborn baby as one of us. One can only speculate how animal rights advocates might rationalize abortion at the later stages of pregnancy.
The difficulty of identifying with the unborn baby is evident even with many pro-lifers, especially at the early stages of pregnancy. If large numbers of pro-lifers had been more readily able to identify with the unborn, even at the earliest stages of life, and muster enough justifiable outrage about abortion to risk arrest and persecution, the Rescue movement would have shut down the abortion industry in the early '90's.
If abortion were not what it is, even at the earliest stages of life, no one would care what women did to what would in fact be their own bodies. It would have all the moral significance of having a tooth pulled. There might still be some concerns about informed choice and the potential for some complications, but even these would be much less since the social, psychological (and to pro-lifers, spiritual) effects of the act would be much less significant.
The only thing that even makes abortion controversial is the nature of the "choice" being made. This is one reason why use of the term "pro-choice" is so misleading and dishonest - especially on the part of the supposedly objective media. The term "pro-choice" presumes that we are talking about a moral and legitimate choice before any discussion even begins. (I suggested in what has been dubbed my "Glossary of Abortionism that pro-lifers use the term "necrochoicer" because it characterizes the choice while still utilizing the opposition's preferred euphemism, making for an uncomfortable and very revealing tag. It also applies to the other "life issues" like euthanasia.)
One would think pro-lifers make an easy target because we have this single most important concern. But we are not an easy target because we have the truth with us and even people not schooled in sophisticated argumentation can see it. Our opponents, by contrast, come at us from a variety of perspectives, some of which include quite legitimate concerns, but also a maddening assortment of ideas that range from part truths to the absolutely ludicrous. The proverb was never truer that it takes a book to answer a paragraph of lies.
I have detailed some of the ways to counter the nonsensical ideas about biology that the other side entertains in the speech "The Philosophy and Tactics of Abortionthink" and the "Glossary of Abortionism. Basically, they can't or don't want to tell the difference between an individual of our species, even one comprised of a single cell, and isolated cells like gametes (sperm or egg) not undergoing the life cycle of our species.
Some have been persuaded that the onset of brainwaves carries some significance as a criterion of the presence or absence of life. But science still doesn't know exactly what brainwaves signify. The reason their loss became accepted as a criterion of death was the irreversiblility of the loss. Once lost late in adult life, all hope of recovery was gone. But the early stages of life are not a parallel situation. Then the direction of the process is from less evident (or familiar) life to clearly evident life rather than from life to death. Brain waves and all other functions will be irreversibly present once conception (fertilization) has occurred. The same criterion of irreversibility of the presence or loss of functions can be used logically to mark the beginning or end of life.
The real question is not when life begins (or, more correctly, when does each *individual* life begin) but how we determine the value of life such that any of us has any rights at all. For too long many pro-lifers thought that once the biological question (the "easy" part) was settled, the whole argument was won, not realizing that their own most fundamental premise was that human life may not be violated at any stage. Our opponents have never shared this premise, even when they have acknowledged the existence of an individual human life at the very earliest stages of pregnancy. The more intelligent among them have long recognized that the crux of the matter is personhood, or what determines our value and rights. So what are our opponents' premises? They are many and varied as noted above but let me suggest a few for your consideration.
I remember running across one necrochoicer while picketing who called himself a humanist but was very concerned about dolphins (I also care about dolphins, by the way). I told him I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the spectacle of a guy who called himself a humanist but who was willing to destroy human life while protecting animal life.
There is much about environmentalism that I value and I also believe in humane treatment of animals. True environmentalism goes beyond concern for the cute, furry animals and includes protection for less cuddly species and for habitats. But to my way of thinking, true environmentalism must include protecting our cultural, spiritual, moral, ethical and political environments from the poisons that are now choking them. We each also have internal environments of both mind and body that are sensitive to certain kinds of poisons. All of human history bears witness to the truth of this. I am speaking of the destructive ideas that have wrought so much suffering throughout history as well as, among other things, pornography which is a form of hate literature in many cases, and substance abuse. I fear that we are liable to lose this republic if we don't start to recognize what we're doing to some of these other environments and start taking a more holistic approach to environmentalism.
The pro-life cause was originally energized by Roe v. Wade and focused on the right to life of the unborn baby. It has since moved to recognize the needs of women in crisis pregnancy situations and emphasized that we love both the prenatal child and the woman who carries it. There has also been attention to abstinence or chastity as preventive measures. But it often seems these efforts have focused largely on young girls. Until we take a more holistic approach that considers the moral health of all of society -- to include males both young and old -- we are likely to continue to lose ground to the secular culture that worships sex as one of the false idols of Abortionism. I wrote "A Young Man's Pledge" as a step toward addressing this problem. It appeals to motivations and conscience as well as considering consequences. It is an example of a holistic approach based on the only law that really matters -- the law to love one's neighbor as one's self.