Cause for Hope

by Kelden Formosa

The tall, angry young man had just screamed “semantic witch” at the young woman at the lectern several rows before him. It seems he didn’t like what she had to say – her argument that abortion kills a human being did not appeal to his pro-choice sensibilities, apparently. You would think that Stephanie Gray, the pro-life debater and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform, might have stumbled, but instead she continued on with her point, taking it all in stride, as the man walked out of the university hall.

The young man was a pro-choice audience member at the abortion debate organized by the University of Ottawa Students for Life and the U of O Med Students for Life this past year. It’s been a few months since the big debate – one which divided our campus and provoked real controversy – but looking back on it now, I think it provides us with some important insights on the future of the continuing public debate on abortion in Canada.

As one of those involved in the organization of the debate (full disclosure), I was quite happy to welcome even the most militant pro-choice activists, including the young man mentioned prior. It is the challenge of pro-life activists to change the hearts and minds of those who disagree with us. Debates, conferences, advertising, writing – pro-life Canadians have done it all, in the hopes that one day human life might be protected from conception unto natural death.

We’ve done it in the face of intense pressure to resign ourselves to the abortion status quo. Our opponents can’t even believe pro-lifers are still around and have even greater difficulty believing that young people and university students could ever be pro-life. For them, the debate ended in 1988, when the Supreme Court allowed for abortion in Canada without any restriction, throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The appalling statistics about abortion in Canada and around the world have barely registered in the consciousness of today’s pro-choice activists: that one in four unborn children will be aborted, including 90% of children prenatally diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, and a higher proportion of female children than male ones, seems quite unimportant to them and most of the mainstream media.

But, like it or not, the debate continues. It continues in families and amongst friends, in classrooms and in churches, and most poignantly, in the hearts and minds of vulnerable women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. And this continuation of the debate is the saving grace for the pro-life movement. Because it means that we’re still not comfortable with abortion – that ending the life of an unborn child still strikes us as morally troubling. For pro-lifers, this is cause for hope.

For pro-choicers, this apparently is cause for fear. Before our abortion debate even happened, dozens of major pro-choice activists rejected our club’s invitation to debate. We offered them the opportunity to confront a leading Canadian “anti-choicer” in an open forum, with a neutral moderator. Yet they said no: Dr. Kathryn Treehuba, a U of O professor and abortion provider; Dr. Fraser Fellow, a UWO professor and abortion provider; Joyce Arthur, of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada; Sandra Rogers, a U of O professor; Wayne Sumner, a U of T professor; Heather Holland, of Planned Parenthood Ottawa; representatives from Canadians for Choice, Action Canada for Population and Development and the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health – all of them refused to debate abortion.

So our club decided to hold them accountable. We put up controversial posters highlighting their refusal and wrote a letter to the editor of the student newspaper, making the debate invitation open to all comers. Eventually Jovan Morales, of the Atheist Community of the University of Ottawa, stepped up to the plate to represent the pro-choice side. It seemed for a moment that we would have a civil, if less than ideal, dialogue on abortion.

But it was not to be. Radical pro-choice activists, many of whom are associated with the Women’s Resource Centre of the Student Federation, decided to come out to our debate in force. This would have been great – if they were really there to engage in a reasoned debate. Instead, they brought their posters and their slogans and their raucous attitudes and little else. Holding signs that declared, “An egg is not a chicken” and “My Body/My Choice,” these activists heckled Ms. Gray, the pro-life speaker, menaced elderly debate attendees and shouted “bulls***” and “what the f***” in response to many of the points made by Ms. Gray. Particularly atrocious was the sign declaring, “I hope the foetus you ‘save’ is gay.” For the record, I wouldn’t mind at all.

But why were they so rude and disruptive? Why not just win the audience over with the logic and eloquence of the pro-choice message? I submit that their behaviour betrays the weakness of their own position. Perhaps it’s just the philosophy major in me, but “My Body/My Choice” is a far better slogan than logical argument. As Ms. Gray said: sure, I have freedom over my body – I can swing my arm, for example – but that freedom ends when it injures another person, e.g. swinging my arm to punch them in the face. When the right to choose ends the life of another person, we can and must restrict it. Similarly, it’s true that an egg is not a chicken, but a preborn child is not an egg – it is a fully human organism, genetically distinct and having within itself the means of its own continuance. Fallacies like the ones presented lie at the heart of pro-choice argumentation.

Now it is possible to be pro-choice and philosophically consistent: you simply have to believe that it is alright to kill innocent human beings simply for convenience’s sake. In my experience though, pro-choice people are just as kind and compassionate as pro-life ones. Few would adopt such a radical position. Instead, not being trained in critical reasoning and open to legitimate concerns of women facing unplanned pregnancy, many accept pro-choice fallacies to justify what is really the easy position on abortion. Pro-lifers recognize that women in need deserve real support and real options and the preborn deserve the most basic of rights – the right to life.

Strikingly, when Ms. Gray showed pictures of aborted children in her presentation, I detected a palpable sense of unease come over the pro-choice activists. Standing near their seats at back of the room, I heard them mutter “these aren’t real” and “it’s not true.” But sadly the images were – medically accurate filming of real, live abortion procedures. If they can’t bring themselves to accept the truth of what they support, then perhaps they aren’t as committed to pro-choice ideology as they would have you believe. And that, more than anything, is cause for hope.

12 thoughts on “Cause for Hope

  1. Alexandre Williot

    “Similarly, it’s true that an egg is not a chicken, but a preborn child is not an egg – it is a fully human organism, genetically distinct and having within itself the means of its own continuance. Fallacies like the ones presented lie at the heart of pro-choice argumentation. ”

    I would like to point out the fallacy goes both ways. A human embryo is not a human being either.
    Human being: A man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.
    when the fetus is in the early stages of development, we agree it is neither a man nor a woman. Similarly it is not a child, because it is not born yet. It does not have superior mental development, neither power of articulate speech, nor does it have an upright stance. By this definition a fetus is not a human being.

    More fallacies:
    “As Ms. Gray said: sure, I have freedom over my body – I can swing my arm, for example – but that freedom ends when it injures another person, e.g. swinging my arm to punch them in the face.”
    What of the case when the unborn fetus is a menace to the mother? Isn’t it the mother’s freedom, nay, right, to protect her life, in such a case? When the harm can result in either the death of a fully grown adult human being, or the death of a non-sentient, probably unable to feel fetus? You tell me which loss is worse.

    “When the right to choose ends the life of another person, we can and must restrict it. ”
    Again, this goes straight back to the definition of a person:
    1) A human being regarded as an individual.
    2) Used in legal or formal contexts to refer to an unspecified individual.
    And we know you cannot be an individual so long as you are not born.

    And some more fallacies:
    “Now it is possible to be pro-choice and philosophically consistent: you simply have to believe that it is alright to kill innocent human beings simply for convenience’s sake.”
    Again, faulty definition at best, and a bad argument at worst.

    “In my experience though, pro-choice people are just as kind and compassionate as pro-life ones. Few would adopt such a radical position.”
    Thank you, that is nice of you not to portray them as psychopaths.

    “Instead, not being trained in critical reasoning and open to legitimate concerns of women facing unplanned pregnancy, many accept pro-choice fallacies to justify what is really the easy position on abortion.”
    However, this thinly veiled contempt is somewhat annoying. This presupposes either that many people are not properly trained in critical reasoning, which is true of a great many people, but knowing how to think with formal logic is not everything, or can insinuate that people who are pro-choice are not really thinking about what they’re saying. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but there does seem to be something written between the lines here.
    As for the “open to legitimate concerns of women facing unplanned pregnancy”, that simply has nothing to do with the argument at hand and should be discarded completely. Somehow insinuating that just because people are pro-choice think all unplanned pregnancies should be ended, or that women in such situations shouldn’t need/receive support, is just preposterous. Distorting the public’s perception about normal people, creating a ‘them and us’ mentality, and undermining their morality is both a bad argument and in very poor taste.

    “Pro-lifers recognize that women in need deserve real support and real options and the preborn deserve the most basic of rights – the right to life.”
    The first part seems to imply (again) that pro-choicers do not. See above.
    As for the second part, that may be a rightful concern of yours. I do not want to see abortion debates stifled, on the contrary, let there be a debate. The more and the more varied opinions there are, the better! You may debate for the pre-born’s right to life, and I somewhat support you. I however will claim that a non-sentient clump of cells unable to think or to feel pain will suffer much less (and have much less to lose) than a fully developped sentient conscient adult. I will claim that a mother has the right to choose what is best for her children, and this is merely an extension of that. If the child cannot suffer, where is the harm?

    However, as pregnancy does progress, so does the brain. I have not made much research on the subject, and will be unable to properly present my case, but after a certain amount of time (let’s say for the sake of convenience after 5 months) the fetus has developped enough to be called a child at that point. Beyond this, it is risky to both the mother and the child to have an abortion (but again, I am unsure of my sources).

    For an article wishing to have a debate on such an important subject, I was expecting much more statistics and logical points supporting such a position. Instead I found an article written with what seems to be an arrogant tone, which dismisses the arguments of the opposition, slanders their opinions, in short a work approaching propaganda. If the case for life is such obvious and so well supported, I would have expected something much better than this.

    The tone of the article specifically intrigues me. I have seen this tone many times before. Let me ask, how many of your group are religious? How many are non-religious? Are you truly arguing for life in the abortion debate, or are you arguing from the position of your faith? I will not insult you by assuming that is the case, I would merely assure myself that you are aware of your motivations. The abortion debate that is still raging, as is justly pointed out in this argument, is still raging because of one saliant feature. The sanctity of human life for religion.

    There are 7 billion humans on the planet. Our way of life is deadent and wasteful, and there isn’t enough ressources on 2 planet earths to support our lifestyle for everyone sharing this planet with us. And yet some (mostly the religious right) wish to save the pre-born’s life at all cost? For what reason, might you ask. And why not invest more time in food drives and aid campaigns for the refugees and poor around the world who are starving everyday? Why, must I ask, are you more interested in what’s going on inside a woman’s uterus instead of what’s going on in the poorest country in the world?

    I sincerely hope I am mistaken in my understanding of your position from the tone I have understood in this article.

    Respectfully yours,
    Alexandre Williot

  2. lisa

    To answer some of your arguments:
    This website has many studies, research articles, and citations about what happens after an abortion. For example, a recent study of from the Canadian Medical Association Journal highlights that 81% of women who have had induced abortions will suffer from mental problems of some kind following the abortion, excluding those with pre-existing mental health problems. Is this really what is best for women?

    For the 7 billion people on this planet, I really don’t think there is much of an issue as the world’s entire population can have their own house, yard with some small livestock and all fit in an area of land the size of the state of Texas.

    I think that our main disagreement is our definition of what a person is. Please see the SLED blog posts on this blog for more details. Where did you obtain your definition of personhood? Here are some of the more scientific facts that you were curious about:

    – Studies have shown the fetus to feel pain by 20 weeks or so.
    – The brain does not finish developing until the age of 20 years old, and sometimes never fully develops. Is this a reliable measure then, for determining personhood? At 5 weeks gestation, the brain begins sending out brainwaves, and by 12 weeks, all the major organs are present.

    “And we know you cannot be an individual so long as you are not born.”

    You were a human being before your big toe left the birth canal. And while your mother was in labour. Your personhood did not change merely because you left your mother’s womb. Your essence, yourself, only began at the moment of conception, when your father’s sperm and your mother’s egg combined to form a new, genetically unique individual. Science and many mainstream embryology textbooks have said that life begins at the moment of conception.

    Thank you for being respectful, courteous, and open to dialogue and discussion on this issue. It is so refreshing to see.

    1. Alexandre Williot

      I do not have much time, and I simply wished to address some issues before I leave.

      To the abortion website, I would also like to point out that the vast majority of people who quit smoking also suffer from an array of mental problems and withdrawal symptoms. Is this in and of itself the only criteria to use to see whether quitting is good or bad? Of course not. My grandma is 80 something, has been smoking for over 40 years, and the doctor said to not even bother trying to quit smoking, at her age it wouldn’t make much of a difference and the withdrawal could even speed her demise.
      Going back to abortion, you have to see on a case by case basis. If a person is rich, has no problem, can support a child, etc, in that case problems that occur after abortion might be bigger than the problems the mother will face when she raises a child. On the other hand, a person who is barely making a living and gets raped, when she has neither the money to raise a child, nor the will to raise the child of her rapist, I think a depression would probably less damaging than actually going through with her pregnancy. Obviously, this is all up to a person’s choice. It is not my place to dictate what a person should and shouldn’t do.

      For the overpopulation ‘myth’, if we all lose our way of life, then yes, we can all live comfortably. I say this ‘comfortably’ probably in the sense of a farmer from a hundred years back (again, this is not real statistics, I’m mostly pulling this out of nowhere) but you understand my point that the average lifestyle of the canadian and american citizen is not sustainable. Moving on, I think one of the things that the overpopulation site also missed is that poverty does not always disappear when they move into urban landscapes. Look at the Arab emirates. You have a city filled to the brim with rich people, and an enormous ghetto next to it. Where poor people moved into town, they made a town of poor people. The issue is much more complicated than that. Notice also that a poor person in the country side can grow her or his own food, while it’s rather hard to grow anything in concrete.
      What intrigues me the most however, is the website’s constant reference to some obscure ‘population control’ agency, or device, or politics. I have never heard of such a population control device, except in the case of the 1 child policy in China, and I think the representation of old philosophers saying we should kill the poor is somewhat misleading. Anyways, that population control thing just perplexes me. Could it be that it is tied in with birth control in some way?

      I simply took the first definition of personhood from a few dictionaries, is all.

      As for the facts, thank you. I agree, past the half-way mark (or the 20th week out of 36), abortion becomes iffy both as legal, moral, and medical procedure.
      I was not saying that the fact was still developing that was a problem, I was saying that the brain is unable to support a personnality, consciousness, call it what you will. A human baby is basically reflexes and instincts until it grown up some. I do not mean this in any demeaning way, I think it is wonderful that a person can grow out of the unorganized brain of a newly born. The brain is not the be-all end-all measure for determining personhood, but it should be taken into account, both the good and bad for both our arguments.
      Organs are not a good representation either, because someone can live with one kidney, one lung, no appendicitis, etc. Scientists are also working to grow organs in a lab. So organs are not a perfect definition either.

      “You were a human being before your big toe left the birth canal. And while your mother was in labour. Your personhood did not change merely because you left your mother’s womb. Your essence, yourself, only began at the moment of conception, when your father’s sperm and your mother’s egg combined to form a new, genetically unique individual. Science and many mainstream embryology textbooks have said that life begins at the moment of conception. ”
      Notice I did not make a statement about being a human being or a person at that point, I said ‘individual’. As I was still attached to my mother, I had no full and proper individuality to speak of. I gained individuality as I was born, and I also gained legal recognition. Legally, abortion isn’t murder because you’re ‘killing’ a person that does not yet exist. I’m not saying we can do abortion as much as we want because of that, I’m just stating the way the law looks at it.

      Also, my essence, my self, developped as I grew up. My self is still developping now as I discuss with you, and (I hope) will continue to change and grow until the day I die. At conception, a sperm and an egg fused, and two haploid cells became one diploid cell. Did ‘life’ begin then? Does this mean the individual egg and sperm were not ‘alive’? And if life did begin there, then what difference is there between killing that living clump of cells in the early stages of a pregnancy, and killing a clump of living cells in the early stages of a cancer? Both are ‘alive’, so clearly a definition relying strictly on that is also flawed.

      “Thank you for being respectful, courteous, and open to dialogue and discussion on this issue. It is so refreshing to see.”
      No problem at all! It is my firm conviction that you cannot have open and interesting conversations with people if you’re not willing to be open and understanding yourself.

      I also notice, however, that you avoided my final question. I will not hold it against you (how could I?) if you are a person of faith or not. Frankly, so long as you are a good person, who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t believe in? I, being an atheist however, who has never started to believe in any religion, do not understand the importance many religious people accord to life and sanctity and purity and all that. I would like to include this topic in our discussion in a respectable and open fashion, if you are willing to share your belief with me.


  3. lisa

    I would like to point out that all the genetic information that is you is present at the moment of conception. Your DNA is separate and distinct from your mother’s at this point, and afterwards it’s simply a question of development, which all of us do continuously. And this human life that begins at conception is separate and distinct from the mother’s life, that is different genetically and substantially from the egg and the sperm that fused to form this new human individual. A cancer cell is your own body’s cells that go haywire essentially and produce too fast and take over, which is not the case with a human fetus. The maternal and fetal blood do not even mix: That is how the mother may have one blood type and the fetus a completely different, even opposite, blood type. At your conception, there was still something that was essentially you, not fully developed yet, but it was there.

    I would be curious to know your opinion about these two articles: (warning; they are rather long):
    Whenever you have the chance.

    One thing to note is that pregnancy is completely natural. Women’s bodies are designed to bear children: it is their natural function in the human circle of life. Depression is a malfunction of the emotional balance in a women and not natural, and more damaging. Also, many thousands of women have regretted their abortions. How many women come out and say, “I regret having children”? Some may resent the way and the timing of the pregnancy, but ultimately, I think it would be fair to say that most women who have borne children are satisfied with their children and would not wish to be rid of their kids. At least in a normal, health way.

    The definition of murder:
    Noun: The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
    Verb: Kill (someone) unlawfully and with premeditation.

    In the case of abortion, yes, unfortunately, it is lawful, but it is a premeditating killing of one human being by another, as we agree that the fetus is human, and it is alive, so it is a human being. So according to this definition, the only thing that makes abortion not murder is the fact that it is legal here in Canada, but it is still the killing of a human being. Just because it’s legal doesn’t necessarily make it right. Nazi Germany is a good example of that, or even the Roman Empire.

    For me personally, I am pro-life because of the science, though I would be lying if I said I do not have a strong faith. I believe and know to be true that human life begins at conception, and that human life is valuable and not disposable, and human happiness is not dependent on material things like money, food, pleasure, etc. Which is why I think the poverty angle to your argument irrelevant. If you let that child live, even though he/she was born in total destitute poverty and misery, that child may live a very happy and satisfying life. We cannot give life value based on utility, convenience, or other Western values. Every human being deserves the chance to forge their own life and embark on their own journey, no matter the distance.

    From a faith perspective, I believe that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and that we are all children of God, and therefore, human life is valuable and sacred. Even the handicapped, the children born out of wedlock, and the “unwanted” of society are still loved by God, and therefore deserving of love and respect. I am quite willing to share my beliefs with you.


    1. Patrick Jenish

      This is a response to a few point in both of your comments Lisa.

      You are correct in your point on the DNA. When we are conceived our DNA is different from our mothers and fathers, in fact it’s a conglomeration of the two. However, you have to understand that DNA is not what makes anyone human, nor is it what makes someone an individual. DNA is simply a grouping and chain of acids and molecules which lay out the blueprint to grow a human being, there is nothing more or less significant in the DNA of a fully grow human being, a fetus, or even a chimp or whale.

      You are correct in saying that lots of people have regretted abortions. A lot of people have regretted having tattoos, maybe even to the point of depression, or have regretted drinking too much alcohol. Perhaps they even became depressed because of it. Does this mean that these things should be illegal? People will regret a lot of things that they do. I will have to say though, that you are incorrect in assuming that the majority of women who abort their pregnancies become depressed later on.

      You are also incorrect in assuming that all women will one day stop regretting children they’ve had, which they do not want to have and never wanted to have. Even if, one day, they realize they are thankful for their child, what happens if they spend the first couple decades raising that child and given them the feeling that they aren’t welcome in the household? Do you think that will make for a healthy happy human being? Wouldn’t it have been better if the child had no been born at all? The cycle would continue as well. The child would have likely developed psychological issues as a result. So what happens when they have children? The behavior carries through to their parenting, and may result in a child who is also depressed or left with a feeling of that their parents didn’t want them

      You’re incorrectly dissecting that definition. You are distorting it to seem as if it applies to newborns. The definition is simply: the unlawful killing of a human being by another. With the verb being killing.

      If we go back and consider the nature of DNA, then we can say that a human embryo is no different than the embryo of a chimp or bear. The embryo is, after all, simply a grouping of cells. So what about other types of cells? We kill thousands of cells when we scratch our skin and those contain all of our DNA. What about when a man masturbates and release sperm. The sperm contains a part of a potential child’s DNA. What about a woman on her period? Who releases an egg in the middle of her menstrual cycle. The egg is also an essential component to conceive a child. So why then do we consider something a life as soon as a sperm meets an egg? You wouldn’t consider the separate components of a cake to be a cake? And you wouldn’t even consider the blended ingredients of a cake to be a cake. So when should we call it a cake? After it’s out of the oven I would presume.

      I personally believe the only way to distinguish a human from the other components that are indistinguishable from other organisms are our brainwaves. Several articles support, and contrary to what you stated, that a fetus will begin sending out brainwaves that are indistinguishable from a human adult at around 7 months of development. If we were given a dark room test with several live fetus’ from several organisms, it would be at this point that, simply by analyzing brainwaves, we’d be able to differentiate the human fetus from that of another organism. At this point, I believe abortion should be illegal, because then we can safely and truly say that the fetus is now a human being. Not a person quite yet, but a human in full. It is generally at this age that most premature babies are born that can survive.

      here are those articles:

      There is also the question of pain. I think if we aren’t causing the fetus pain, then it isn’t a problem to have an abortion. After that, it really becomes a bit more unethical to do so.

      I’m going to let it slide until you clarify a bit further, but are you truly comparing the atrocities committed by the Third Reich and the Roman Empire to abortion? Please tell me you are not.

      “Which is why I think the poverty angle to your argument irrelevant”
      So you are content in letting a child be born and raised in a completely hostile environment that will almost entirely ensure that said child will not grow up to have a normal life, nor a healthy full life. I think it is very hypocritical and arrogant to suggest, from a very comfortable first world home while getting a world class education in one of the richest most resource filled countries in the world, that someone in poverty should be happy regardless of their situation. It betrays an ignorance, that you have no idea what these people suffer, and the impossibility that true happiness is to them.

      “For the 7 billion people on this planet, I really don’t think there is much of an issue as the world’s entire population can have their own house, yard with some small livestock and all fit in an area of land the size of the state of Texas”

      The maker of that video is correct, the growth rate of the population is decreasing. However the population itself is not. it is increasing, and rather rapidly too. Just take a look at this graph:
      Another thing, is that the birthrate is more than double the mortality rate.

      If we consider that the human population grows by 15 billion every year, that’s the potential for 15 billion more people to reproduce. I know that it’s not that simple. But right now the birth rate is higher than the death rate.

      This is not what people mean when they talk about overpopulation. When we say that the Earth is becoming overpopulated, we don’t mean that we are running out of physical living space, if that’s what we meant, then overpopulation would not even be in the dictionary. Overpopulation, defined by the oxford english dictionary, and by wikipedia is: An organism’s population exceeding the carrying capacity of it’s ecosystem or environment. Carrying Capacity is defined as: The maximum population size that an environment that can sustain an organism indefinitely. We are not there yet, but we are approaching that point. Most scientists estimate that the carrying capacity of the Earth is somewhere between 2 to 40 billion people. I’ve also heard that it is somewhere closer to 10 – 14 billion. The earth’s population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050. China’s food production is estimated to drop by almost 20% before the first half of this century is over. Overpopulation is not just a question of the world running out of space. It’s also a question of the loss of sustainability in our environment.

      Hope to have a good debate!



      1. lisa

        Here is my response to your comments, Patrick:

        My point in bringing up the DNA is not saying that humans are only a set of DNA, and that’s what makes us human. My point was from a scientific perspective, human life begins at conception. Prior to conception, there was a sperm and an egg, but after conception, there is no longer sperm and egg but a unique individual human being, with unique set of DNA, blood type and even fingerprints from the mother. From conception, the cells that are dividing and multiplying are different from sperm and egg in the way they behave, their composition, and eventually, their gross anatomical appearance. See pg. 30 of this paper for details from an embryologist:

        And I correct myself: it is not at 5 weeks, as I said earlier, that brain waves begin, but at 7 weeks:

        For further information on the scientific basis for human life beginning at conception, the above document is good, but also this blog post:

        Our techniques for studying fetal pain are growing, and while we can definitely see that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation, there is a growing amount of evidence that fetuses as young as 8-10 weeks gestation will react to painful stimuli (see the evidence in this article from an abortionist)

        I was using the example of Nazi Germany and the Roman Empire as an example of governments dehumanization of a certain group of people.

        For the depression issue, I didn’t say that most women become depressed sometime after an abortion. I quoted an article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal saying that 81% of postabortive women who have had no previous mental health problems develop mental health problems sometime after the abortion. I didn’t specify depression, but yes, from the numerous stories I have heard from postabortive women, it does seem to be a common enough phenomenon. And while the depression itself is not enough to outlaw a “medical procedure” such as abortion, it is a factor to consider. From a clinicians perspective, that is an extremely high incidence of a side effect, and it says something about the psyche of the woman. Women are made to bear children. End of story. If you disrupt that process and destroy the child that the woman was made to bear, love and nurture, it does harm the woman’s psyche, as well as the numerous physical risks, as detailed in the South Dakota policy document.

        The key word in is “almost”. It “almost” guarantees them a life of suffering a neglect. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know everything. Even medicine and science doesn’t know everything. So who am I to deny someone the right to life simply because they may lead a miserable and unhappy life? Every person has the ability to rise above their circumstances and take their life into their own hands. Why do we not allow the unborn child to do that? Yes, there may be suffering. Life is never free from suffering. But even suffering can be beautiful, and meaning can come from suffering. To me, it makes no sense to say to someone, you’re going to suffer horribly in your life, so I’m just going to kill you now. We’re not soothsayers and seers of the future. Who are we to decide that someone else’s life is not worth living? Yes, maybe it’s not our life, but it’s the only life they’ve got, and they have the right to make the most of their life, such as it is.

        Money does not equal happiness. We do not necessarily need material goods for happiness. A good example of this: Nigeria, a pretty poor country, has one of the highest happiness ratings of the people who live there. And here, in Canada and North America, people who have everything are depressed. Depression rates have risen. Ultimately, it is not material things that bring happiness, so I would think it arrogant to assume that if one does not have material things, one is not happy. I know this from personal experience; happiness is possible separate from material things.

        The point of the whole world living in Texas is that if the whole world can live in the state of Texas, that leaves the whole rest of the world to sustain that population. I think the problem is not unsustainability, but distribution of resources. We have so much here in North America, where elsewhere they have nothing. That is where the problem lies, not in the unavailability of food.

        Sorry that this is so long, but I hope it addresses your points.

        Thanks for debating!


  4. Kelden Formosa

    Hi Alexandre:

    First off, I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful engagement with my piece. As a writer, it’s always gratifying to have people read it and take an interest – even if it’s to disagree! I’ll make just a few quick notes on some of the issues you raised in your comment:

    Your first concern is with the tone of the piece. As you can imagine, it was mainly directed towards people that are already pro-life. It was a bit of a pep talk given some of the negativity that came out of the Abortion Debate we held, if you will. It was not really intended to be an exhaustive case for pro-life philosophy and public policy, but since you’ve raised these issues, I’ll address some of your points on these topics:

    1. Humanity of Pre-born Child/Foetus

    You defined a “human being” as being “a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”

    I presume that you disqualify the pre-born under this definition because they do not have superior mental development, articulate speech and an upright stance. However, syntaxically speaking, this part of the definition is simply expanding upon the characteristics of the species Homo sapiens as distinguished from the characteristics of other animal species. It does not imply, on a close reading, that all human beings must have these characteristics. Indeed, it says the opposite – provided a being is a “man, woman or child of the species Homo sapiens” one is a human being.

    So is a preborn child a member of the species Homo sapiens? Yes. A preborn child is the product of the union of a human sperm cell and a human egg cell – as are all human beings, whatever their age. Given the core reproductive principle that the the offspring of a union of two gametes (sex cells i.e. sperm and egg) will be of the same species as gametes themselves, we know that the embryo (that’s the name for the preborn child during the extremely early stages of her life) that results from the union of a human sperm and a human egg will be human herself.

    Moreover, there are a number of other good reasons for believing the preborn child to be a human being. They are set out in full scientific detail in this white-paper (, but I’ll summarize for your convenience:

    – The embryo is genetically distinct from her mother and father. From conception, she has a unique genetic identity that will remain unchanged for the rest of her life. I use “her” purposely, because the embryo’s sex is determined at conception.

    – The embryo has within herself the means of her own continuance. In other words, if the embryo is not interfered with by an external factor (e.g. abortion) or an internal disease or condition, she will continue to live and eventually be born.

    As an aside, I’d also just note that if we were to operate by what I think is your understanding of the definition you’ve provided, neither infants nor toddlers, nor the intellectually disabled, would qualify as human beings. Infants, and some toddlers, are not further developed mentally than most animals we eat, nor can they speak or walk upright. The same goes for many people with intellectual disabilities. This is not a slippery slope – it is a direct result of your definition. If you are unprepared to accept defining infants, toddlers and the intellectually disabled out of the human species, than you ought to reconsider your understanding of the definition offered.

    Finally, as a philosophy student, I know that any definition of anything is subjective at some level. But our society, including me, chooses to accept scientific definitions of phenomena we consider scientific. The biological status of an entity is, in my mind at least, a proper question of scientific inquiry and thus a scientific definition of “human being” is appropriate for determining whether an embryo, zygote, foetus (or preborn child) is in fact a human being. And under such a scientific definition, it clearly is.

    2. The Personhood Status of the Preborn

    The more interesting question is whether the preborn entity – a human being, as we established above – is in fact a person. The term “person” is used in legal, philosophical and human-rights discourses and refers to a human being that is entitled to certain rights, notably the right to life.

    I think that if one is a human being, one is automatically a person. Others disagree. This disagreement is at the heart of the argument around the morality of abortion. I will briefly give some reasons for believing that human beings are automatically persons:

    Firstly, the division between ‘human being’ and ‘person’ is in many ways a case of semantics. In our everyday language, we do not distinguish behind human beings and persons. Even when we discuss pregnancies, we usually refer to the foetus or embryo as a ‘baby’ or a ‘child.’ When we construct a language to justify our philosophical position (‘baby’ becomes ‘foetus’ becomes ‘clump of cells’), we engage in the semantic fallacy.

    Secondly, the justifications given by pro-choice activists for denying personhood to the preborn human beings can typically be characterized as one type or another of the following four categories, each of which are flawed:

    1. Size – Preborn humans are smaller than humans we typically consider persons, therefore they’re not persons. If we accept this, then personhood varies with size (eg. 6″1 man is more of a person than a 5″8 man). Thus I believe size is unacceptable as a criteria for personhood.

    2. Level of Development – Preborn humans are less developed than humans we typically consider persons, therefore they’re not persons. If we accept this, then personhood varies with level of development (eg. 60 year old woman is more of a person than a 6 year old girl). Thus I believe level of development is unacceptable as a criteria for personhood.

    3. Environment – Preborn humans exist in a different environment than humans we typically consider persons (namely, their mother’s womb), therefore they’re not persons. If we accept this, then personhood varies with the environment in which one exists (eg. Brazilian woman is more of a person than a Kenyan woman). Thus I believe the environment in which one exists is unacceptable as a criteria for personhood.

    4. Degree of Dependency – Preborn humans are more dependent on other than humans we typically consider persons (namely, their mother’s womb), therefore they’re not persons. If we accept this, then personhood varies with the degree to which one is dependent on others (eg. man on dialysis because of kidney failure is less of a person than a man not on dialysis). Thus I believe the degree to which one is dependent on others is unacceptable as a criteria for personhood.

    Note that you could accept any of these criteria for personhood. If you did, however, logical consistency would require you to accept to example given above – each of which describe a consequence of accepting that particular criteria for personhood.

    Thirdly, every time we have denied a class of human beings the status of persons, it has been to justify a massive abuse of human rights. Consider how women, people of colour, Jewish people and LGBTQ people have historically had their personhood denied, and the sorts of human rights abuses that were perpetrated against such ‘non-persons.’ The fact that pro-choicers are engaging in the same kind of argumentation to support abortion should give any who do so serious pause.

    Fourthly, conferring personhood at any point other than conception would be arbitrary, far more arbitrary than conferring it at conception. At no specific and universal point does a new organism come into existence as with conception, nor do any of the proposed periods at which a personhood could be conferred change the nature of the organism as fundamentally as conception does.

    Fifthly, even if we cannot be sure of the personhood of the preborn human, should we not give her the benefit of the doubt? Particularly when the alternative is being killed? Consider other scenarios where we don’t know for sure whether an organism is a person – a hunter sees a bright orange shape far off in the woods: it could be a tiger or it could be a person wearing a hunting jacket. Shouldn’t that hunter assume that the bright orange shape is a person until he is able to prove otherwise? At least, shouldn’t that hunter not shoot the bright orange shape until he is sure?

    For these five reasons, I’m quite confident that we ought to classify all human beings – including the preborn as per section 1 – as persons.

    3. Conclusion

    To recap, the argument pro-life people make is as follows:

    The scientific consensus is that conception marks the beginning of the life of a unique human organism. Preborn children are thus human beings. There are compelling reasons for which all human beings should be designated as persons, as illustrated in section 2. Therefore, preborn children are persons, entitled to the basic rights of personhood, notably the right to life.

    Note that I did not mention any religious texts, teachings or traditions once in making this argument. It is purely secular, founded upon logic and reason. The religious beliefs of myself and other club members are irrelevant – our constitution notes that we are non-sectarian organization, and the arguments we make are secular in nature.

    Thanks again for your interest. I really appreciate your willingness to engage in this discussion. Feel free to contact our club by continue to comment here or on Facebook or by emailing us at



  5. Patrick Jenish

    I also would like to point out that before the gentlemen yelled “semantic witch” the “debate” topics were providing no insight into the topic of abortion, and were an attempted dissection of Jovan’s character. It’s not as if he didn’t like what he heard and it didn’t appeal to his pro-choice views, it’s that it had nothing to do with abortion and that it was a clear attack against Jovan’s character.

    1. Alex


      I do not know where this concept originated, but I must respectfully disagree. A fertilized egg is not a human being. It might be a human fertilized egg, it might become a human later on, but it is not at the moment.

      I agree that the embryo is genetically distinct. Mutations do arise however in your own cells, who then become genetically distinct from you.
      For the external factor, if you are going to say that without any exterior factor, an embryo will develop into a human being, then I must say you are wrong. Without the external factor of the womb and the placenta, the embryo will be unable to develop. It does develop on itself, in a way that we don’t need to do anything for it to develop, but it depends on the mother 100%, and that is an external factor.

      I’m sorry, I have no idea where the ‘infants and toddlers and intellectually/physically handicapped are not human’. Infants and toddlers are synonyms to children, thus they are human. And handicaps are descriptions of a human person, adult handicaps, children handicaps, etc etc etc. This has little to do with my definition, and it seems to have more to do with you misunderstanding it.

      I agree that most everything is subjective. And you are right to say that it is an area of scientific inquiry. We must also be careful to make the distinction between human being and person. To be a person, you must be an individual, thus you must be born. I’m not arguing that embryos are not human, I’m saying they’re not people yet and thus it cannot be classified as murder.

      I would like to point out however that the semantic fallacy goes both ways. When the fertilized egg divides and becomes a blastula, it would be erroneous to refer to it as a child or baby. Blastula is the correct scientific term. Not everyone (me included) is intimately familiar with the jargon associated with human prenatal development though. It’s not so much a case of semantics fallacy than a case of lack of knowledge of the proper names for each period of development. If used purposefully, it can be a semantics fallacy to call an embryo a child also.

      The thing is, one cannot simply take these four arguments separately and pick them apart, saying that each one is insufficient. Yes, I agree. What is the main concern here is that the embryo is touched by all 4 of these factors at once.

      1. size: indeed, that alone is an incorrect criteria
      2. Yes indeed, development also alone is an incorrect criteria.
      3. Well, to be fair, personhood does vary with the environment. Try being a woman rights activist in Saudi Arabia, or an atheist near Mecca. So this argument is not entirely flawed, but alone it is insufficient.
      4. Well, if your brother were a vampire, and he fed on your blood, do you think you should have a say on what he does to you? If a pre-born is not a person, then a woman can have an abortion if she so desires. If a pre-born IS a person, then the mother can legally desire not to have another person feed off her. If your brother could only feed on you, and it was slowly killing you, would it be murder to tell him that no, he cannot suck your blood anymore? He is the one who depends on you. You have a right not to provide. To many it might seem immoral, but there are no legally binding laws to force anyone to take care of a dependant. So, alone, this argument also is insufficient.

      The one thing I have to say about your arguments is that individually they are insufficient. However, given that an embryo is literally as small as you can get, and it grows from then on, sheltered in the mother’s womb, feeding off her, to fuel its growth and development. Take away any of these 4 characteristics, and we’re not talking about an embryo anymore.

      I do believe there is a difference in size between say a 2 months old embryo and a 9 months old baby. At this point I would agree with you that the baby is in fact a person. Where does the transition occur? It’s hard to pinpoint because it’s a sliding scale, and any decision we make would by definition be arbitrary. However, I do think that risks of abortion are significantly higher after 4 months of pregnancy, and unsafe after 5 or 6. In these cases, I would agree that yes, abortion should not be performed in the last trimester.

      You are right, that in every case a group of people have been denied their rights, abuse has ensued. Babies and embryos are not a group of people however. They are simply human beings who have not yet reached the status of personhood, just as children have not yet reached the stage of adulthood. What kind of abuse is there against children who have not reached their adulthood status? And what kind of abuse would the pre-born face? I don’t know of very many mothers wiling to go through their pregnancy who wouldn’t do their best to protect their unborn child.

      I completely agree, the decision of conferring personhood is entirely arbitrary. I hope you also realize your idea that your idea that a human being comes into existence the moment of conception is arbitrary. It’s just that it’s a lot more easier for government officials to wait until the baby is born to issue birth certificates, social insurance numbers, etc etc etc. That, and I think somewhere around 50% of pregnancies end up in miscarriages. Reporting the ‘death’ of a person who is not born yet can be tricky. So I say yes, that is an arbitrary decision. I’d also say that your decision to consider conception as the big epiphany is arbitrary also. I could say the only real point to see whether someone is human or not would be to look at the brain waves, and to see when in the stages of development the embryo’s brain wave patters is distinctly human. But that would also be arbitrary, no?

      Remember that in the case of hunters, you are talking about fully grown, independant and self-sufficient persons, none of which applies to an embryo.

      In conclusion:
      Your argument that all 4 arguments against an embryo’s personhood status are individually insufficient or incorrect, is accurate. You haven’t however addressed the fact that all of those factors must be taken together. It is like me saying a red Toyota is an insufficient definition, because there are plenty of red things, and there are plenty of different cars from Toyota.
      Thus, I view your stance as not entirely correct. If you wish to grant pre-born human beings the status of person, you must revise your arguments, and consider the problems associated with personhood we would face with embryos.

      I did notice that, but I am also very much aware that most of the pro-life organizations are religiously motivated. I do not know why, but many religions view human life as sacred, and like with all religions, some people take it to extremes. I’m not referring to you here, just extremists in general from any religion.I would not say that your faith or lack thereof is irrelevant, because it can be a motivating factor, even if it is not the justification.

      No problem!

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