Value Systems Should be Based on Facts. The values of a society are either based on facts or they are not. If values are not based on facts, then they are based on delusions, fantasies, myths, lies, or propaganda (i.e., half-truths and deception to conceal truth). Societies with values based on lies and propaganda are easy for predatory politicians and special interest groups to manipulate because lies and propaganda have the power to hijack our perception of reality. When our perception of reality is distorted and controlled by other people, don’t be surprised when those people use that power to serve their own interests.
Value Systems Shape Our Perception of Reality. Many people have strong feelings about abortion. This is understandable, but it’s important to recognize that the value systems that govern our society shape our perception of reality, which determines what we feel strongly about. For example, there are many more Pro-Life advocates in societies based on Judeo-Christian values than there are in societies based on other value systems, such as Confucianism or polytheism. However, whether a given value system is based on facts or not can be tested and determined; and anybody who seeks social and economic stability should want their value system to be based on facts because only facts can serve as an enduring foundation for a system of values and national laws.
The Relative Value of Human Life. Every so-called advanced society today has criminal laws that assign a relative value to human life, depending upon the circumstances. In many countries, when a person physically attacks you, you have the right to kill them based on the principle that deadly force used in self-defense is legitimate and necessary to avoid your own death. But is it ever justified to kill another human in situations when your life is not threatened? Based on the principle of proportionality, which permeates the criminal justice systems of virtually every country, the answer is no.
When Does Human Life Begin? This is where facts are most important because this is the question that ignites the fiercest debates. Does a human life only begin once a human is outside the womb? If so, then it’s easy to justify killing a human all the way up to the moment before birth. However, if you believe this, and you’re looking at a human baby born one minute ago, then what exactly was that blob of tissues two minutes ago? Was it a human or not?
Purge Lies and Propaganda from Our Lives. The answers we give to the questions above are based on our value system, but those values must be based on facts; otherwise, they’re based on lies and propaganda. Why would anybody believe in lies and propaganda? Sadly, humans in so-called advanced societies believe in lies and propaganda too frequently, but that does not mean we should tolerate lies and propaganda in our lives. To the contrary, we should vigorously purge them from our existence because every lie and piece of propaganda in our lives is an entry point for politicians and special interest groups to hijack our perception of reality, divide our societies, pick our pockets, and control our lives.
What Does It Mean to be Alive? Every intellectually honest human by now should be able to acknowledge that human life does not start merely because a baby’s head peaks out from a woman’s vagina. That would not be a fact-based belief. So, the next logical question is: At what point in the pre-birth lifecycle of a human does life actually begin? One week before birth? One month? Six months? At the point of conception? Now we are describing a continuum of time and a developmental process of life, which compels us to ask another question: What does it mean to be alive at any point along that continuum? The image below illustrates exactly what it means.
Human gestation at 20 weeks (the “viability point” in most U.S. states)
Existing Life vs. New Life. Fuzzy concepts like “viability” and “potentiality” are often injected into the debate at this point. The presence of these technically meaningful but intellectually contrived concepts reveals a fundamental reality about this entire debate: When people debate when human life starts, they’re actually unconsciously debating a more fundamental question: “What is more valuable: the quality of a woman’s existing life or the new life of an unborn human?” In fact, the entire pro-life / pro-choice debate would not exist at all if every woman on Earth valued their unborn child’s life more than the quality of their own lives. In that world, all women would choose to give birth rather than abort; so, there would be no debate at all.
What is Value? My book explores this question in deeper and more interesting ways, but it’s critical to ask and briefly answer this question here, too, because the answer to the question above (“Is the quality of a woman’s existing life more valuable than the new life of an unborn human?”) is entirely based on our understanding of the concept of “value.” Without understanding the concept of value and how it applies to our own decision-making processes, we are drifting in an ocean of emotions or other people’s values with no anchor to stabilize our own lives and societies.
Utility Value vs. Exchange Value. There are two fundamental types of value in human existence: “utility value” and “exchange value.” Utility value exists when we derive happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction from something. Anything that increases our happiness or preserves our existence creates utility value. In contrast, “exchange value” is value that we exchange with others to get something we want. Concepts like currencies, money, barter and trade, quid pro quo, reciprocity, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” etc. are all examples of exchange value in our world.
What About Moral or Spiritual Value? Some people might think “spiritual value” or “moral value” are separate forms of value, but when you trace all the manifestations of spiritual and moral value to their logical foundations, you’ll find that they’re both forms of utility value based on religious or spiritual principles. This doesn’t make them less meaningful; it simply means they should be accurately understood as forms of utility value, which means their role in human societies is to increase human happiness and satisfaction or to preserve human existence. 1
Life Is Full of Difficult Tradeoffs. Let’s start with some obvious tradeoffs: Is your existing life more valuable than an unborn human’s potential life? If you’re the only person on Earth who can create a cure for cancer, and complications from childbirth will kill you, then the answer is yes. In this case, we measure your value based on the number of human lives that are saved in exchange for the loss of a single unborn life. If you are my wife of 20 years and childbirth will kill you, then the answer is yes because my happiness is increased more from having my soulmate than from having a child. If an old man or terrorist is driving recklessly and about to run over a group of people, then yes, ramming him off the road and killing him would be a morally justifiable tradeoff. Examples like these illustrate that life is full of difficult tradeoffs, but that doesn’t mean we cannot legitimately compare the value of each human life and make rational and morally consistent decisions.
Neutralizing Extremism. At this point, the extreme right- and left-wing ideologues should be less extreme if they have thoughtfully considered their value systems within the context of everything discussed so far. If you were previously on the far-right side of the abortion debate, you should be able to acknowledge that there are situations when a woman’s life is rationally more valuable than an unborn human’s life. If you were previously on the far-left side of this debate, you should be able to acknowledge that human life does not begin at child birth; and no human life should be discarded at any point along its biological lifecycle without a meaningful understanding of the personal and societal tradeoffs.
Potential Value vs. Realized Value. As we move closer to the ideological center of this debate, we face a much larger number of situations in which comparing the value of a woman’s quality of life and an unborn human is more contentious. It’s more contentious because different people place different degrees of value on different things. In my previous example, the value of my wife’s existing life is far higher than the value of an unborn human’s life. Why? Because “value” can be quantified as either potential value or realized value. My wife does not merely represent potential value to me; she is realized (actual) value. Distinguishing between potential and realized value is common in many areas of life. For example, would you rather have potential profits or realized profits from an investment? If your country is attacked by a terrorist group, would you rather have potential peace or actual peace? Potential food or actual food? Potential happiness or actual happiness? Potential love or actual love? . . . .
Human gestation at 10 weeks
Emphasis on the Realized Value of Existing Life. The potential-vs-realized principle focuses the mind on how value either exists or not in our lives. It helps to eliminate most of the noise and propaganda in our world today, which often distracts people from rationally evaluating their options and tradeoffs in life. If we are forced to choose between a child-bearing-aged woman and an unborn human, we can and should place a higher value on human life that is already adding significant value to our lives than a human life that is only just beginning to add value to our lives. This is not heartless or immoral; it’s often a rational and necessary choice in a world where life and death, happiness and misery, creation and destruction, gain and loss, truths and lies are all mutually exclusive concepts, each of which implies mutually exclusive choices and tradeoffs in our daily lives.
A Human Life is Not an Island of Value. Every human must exist within a diverse ecosystem of economic, philosophical, and cultural values for it to have any value or meaning at all in a human society. I know some religious people will argue against this point based on a spiritual argument, but spirituality (including the existence of a soul) is based on faith, not facts. That doesn’t mean faith-based arguments are necessarily wrong; it simply means they cannot be proven or disproven, which means they cannot be distinguished from myths, delusions, lies, and propaganda.
A Nation Cannot be Governed by Faith-Based Laws. Faith can inspire laws, but the laws cannot be based on faith alone. If something can’t be distinguished from lies and propaganda, then it cannot be the basis for a nation’s laws. This is because any law based on faith becomes an entry point for politicians and special interest groups to hijack our perception of reality, divide our societies, pick our pockets, and control our lives. To actually govern a nation, civil societies need laws that are rooted in values that can be substantiated by provable facts. In this context, here are some provable facts:
- Human life starts long before childbirth. (Exactly when is discussed below.)
- The concept of value in human societies is based on an interdependent system of utility, value exchange, and cultural beliefs, which require us to make value judgments every day.
- Value judgements in law and in our daily lives require us to accept tradeoffs because life/death, creation/destruction, happiness/misery, gain/loss are all mutually exclusive concepts, each of which requires mutually exclusive human decisions.
- Tradeoffs must be justified based on a society’s values, which are the foundation of its laws.
- A society’s values and laws must be based on facts and not faith alone because faith cannot be sufficiently distinguished from myth, delusion, lies, and propaganda. (For anybody who doubts this, study the theocratic and authoritarian governments today and throughout human history that control their citizens with religion and faith-based laws.)
Should Abortion be Unrestricted, Prohibited, or Conditional? At this point, it should be clear that completely outlawing abortion will never work in any multicultural, multi-faith society. Most major U.S. polls suggest that a large majority of Americans are resigned to this reality. Thus, the major debate in the U.S. boils down to two rational choices: Unrestricted or Conditional Abortion. Let’s briefly examine each option.
Unrestricted Abortion. If a society accepts that human life starts long before childbirth (and an overwhelming majority of Americans do), then “Unrestricted Abortion” beyond the viability point is logically hypocritical and criminal and should be punished as murder. This is not an ideological or faith-based argument; it’s simply the logical consequence of killing a human in any society that has anti-murder laws. Whether we agree with those laws is another question, but if they exist, they should be enforced or repealed.
Conditional Abortion. If a society accepts that human life starts long before childbirth (and an overwhelming majority of Americans do), then “Conditional Abortion,” by definition, is justifiable only in certain cases. Which cases? The conditionality of abortion can be based on three basic principles: Proportionality (i.e., “a life for a life”), Convenience (i.e., “I can’t/don’t want to take care of the child.”), and Mercy (i.e., mercy killing). All cases, including rape, incest, poverty, birth defects, mental health, etc. are covered under the principles of Proportionality, Convenience, and Mercy. Let’s briefly examine these principles.
Conditional Abortion Based on Proportionality. Given what we know about the concept of value and the tradeoffs embedded in all laws and human activities, I think most people at this point will accept that abortion is tolerable in cases when the mother’s life is truly at risk, which illustrates the proportionality principle (“a life for a life”). I know there is a small minority of people who still disagree with this, but their numbers are too small to influence this debate on a national level.
Conditional Abortion Based on Mercy. A large majority of Americans support various types of mercy killing when it’s intended to end another human’s permanent suffering from illness (e.g., from cancer) or physical trauma (e.g., brain damage from a car accident).2 The Mercy principle also applies when an unborn human has a birth defect that guarantees it will experience serious lifelong suffering after birth. Given that most Americans support the concept of mercy killing for post-born humans, logically they should also support it for unborn humans with serious birth defects.
Conditional Abortion Based on Convenience. Here’s where the deepest conflicts exist because many people disagree about when human life actually begins. After a series of Supreme Court rulings, including Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the principle of “fetal viability” (the potential of a fetus to survive outside the uterus after birth) became the central point around which the debate rages today. Viability is now used as a litmus test for unborn human life. This means, as medical technologies allow a fetus to live longer outside the uterus, viability will occur at ever-earlier points in time; thereby, giving less time to women to abort inconvenient unborn humans. Based on the testimony of medical experts, the Court and state governments have determined that 20-24 weeks is the viability point, up to which a fetus can be aborted with no significant restrictions.
Should Society Allow Convenience Abortions? If we accept that human life starts at some specific point (either conception or viability), how should we perceive convenience abortions after that point? Is it murder? If so, what should we do to this particular class of murderers? Kill them (based on the proportionality principle)? Imprison them? Torture them? Financially penalize them? Ostracize them from society? Leave them alone? If we don’t impose penalties to discourage unborn human murder (<--warning: very graphic), are we hypocritically living in denial? From a Pro-Life perspective, should we punish millions of women for murdering approximately 60 million unborn humans since 1973? From a Pro-Choice perspective, should we tell the government and society, “Stay out of their uterus!” even though there’s another living human inside their body?
Perfect Justice Does Not Exist. If we, as a society, are going to establish any point in a pregnancy (conception or viability) as the magical point at which a human life begins, and then not punish people for killing that human life, what’s the point of having anti-murder laws? Facetiously, why not make all abortions legal if anti-murder laws are not going to be enforced? The truth is, we will never achieve perfect justice on the abortion issue because “justice” is based on cultural values that are never homogenous in a multicultural, multi-faith society. This is why the United States was founded on the principle of federalism, which theoretically empowers the states to make their own laws on most issues based on each state’s unique subcultures, values, and traditions. The Supreme Court should have never involved itself in this debate in the first place.
Human gestation at 30 weeks
The Current State of U.S. Abortion Law. Today, we have a mind-numbing patchwork of state and federal laws designed to impose conditional restrictions on abortion, which reflects the general values and cultural composition of each state. These laws help to discourage some of the wanton destruction of unborn human life that might otherwise occur, while still giving women significant control over their bodies during the first 5-6 months of their pregnancy. Given the many mutually exclusive cultural and philosophical values and intractable complexities of this debate, the balance between human liberty and human life that exists today is likely the best result that Americans can hope to achieve.
1. This is not merely a utilitarian argument. The purpose of defining “value” is to avoid being manipulated by politicians and special interest groups who inevitably seek to impose their self-serving values onto us to sell us their products and ideologies. Whether you believe in a spirit realm or not is immaterial to the definition of value in human existence. In other words, these are not mutually exclusive principles; utility value can be derived from the spirit realm or the human realm. The fundamental essence of value within human existence does not change, regardless of the source.
2. For mercy killing polls: http://www.people-press.org/2006/01/05/strong-public-support-for-right-to-die/
3. All baby images courtesy of: https://www.babycenter.com