Why is the prolife movement right—and why is Roe v. Wade wrong?
Certainly many of us could come up with impassioned arguments on these counts—but that’s exactly what Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, does not do in his latest book, Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy on the Life Issues.
Though he is passionate about the topic, as he swiftly revealed in a recent interview with Catholic Exchange, his book is a cool unfolding of the ten principles upon which civilization rests, and a calm analysis of the logical fallacies—and destruction of these same principles—within the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
A philosopher and the former president of Gonzaga University, Fr. Spitzer is comfortable touching on the theories of philosophers as wide-ranging as Aristotle and Aquinas, Kirkegaard and Kant to make his points. This is no bedtime reading, but a slender volume that rightfully calls for the reader’s full attention in navigating the labyrinthine path that has led to the decision declaring that a human fetus is not a person—and not deserving of the protection of the law.
Why did you decide to write this book?
The prolife movement needed a comprehensive philosophy to accompany its teachings. They do have a philosophy—it’s very clear—but it’s kind of in bits and pieces, so I decided to sew the whole thing together. The easiest way was with the 10 universal principles of civilization.
The first three principles you address—the principle of complete explanation (the best theory explains the most data), the principle of noncontradiction (valid opinions have no internal contradictions), and the principle of objective evidence (nonarbitrary opinions are based on publicly verifiable evidence)—are called the “principles of reason.” Why are these so important to the prolife movement?
These are the rules of the game. When [you] do something as important as render a Supreme Court decision, the last thing you want to do is violate these three principles.
Roe v. Wade is a study in what not to do in logic; there are a lot of logical fallacies in that decision.
Can you offer an example of how that decision violated the principle of objective evidence?
There are a lot of criteria we can have for a person or a human being, and we can certainly have objective evidence for a human being. Through DNA sequencing we can know there is a full and unique human genome at the stage of a single-cell zygote; that’s objective evidence.
Is it objective evidence for humanity? Yes; that zygote is human and not other than human, and furthermore it’s a unique human; there’s no other like it. That’s a pretty good criterion for a human being.
From that vantage point, we would want to admit that as objective evidence; if somebody comes along and says, “No, it has to be in the second trimester of development in order to be human,” you’d say, “Why?” Why does the second trimester make it any more human? The fact is, it doesn’t.
Why does being born make it any more human? Why does being three years old make it more human? It was human at the earliest stage. All these add-on criteria are just subjective. We have good objective criteria which all of us can utilize; it can be verified again and again.
How did the decision violate the principle of noncontradiction?
In terms of contradictions, one of the most remarkable statements in the Roe v. Wade decision was when judges indicated they were not able to find a precedent for “personhood” in utero. But the courts did say that in utero, human beings have the right to inherit; if they’re not a person, how in the world could they inherit anything? They also said in utero human beings could sue for injuries done to them in the room if negligence was involved.
Do you realize if you shoot a mother who is pregnant and you don’t kill her, but you kill her unborn infant, you can be held criminally liable for murder? This is not just suing, like a civil suit; this is a criminal action of the court. How can you be held criminally liable for murder if the unborn human being is not a person, deserving protection under the law?
What’s a person? A human being. That goes all the way back to the Hippocratic oath, practically speaking; for all intents and purposes, there’s been no differentiation between the word “person” and “human being”—but all of a sudden [in Roe v. Wade ], we see personhood is being separated from human being.
Why? Why did the justices take this view?
Personhood requires protection under the law, but human beings also require protection under the law; everybody considered human beings to be persons, but once the Supreme Court makes this very specious and unsound decision [that they are different], it then says, “When does personhood begin?” Notice here we can break away from the objective criteria. Of course, there’s a great deal of confusion; on the basis of the confusion, the Supreme Court rules that it’s not a person, and therefore sanctions the killing of unborn human beings. This is so specious; the rocks are crying out for justice.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the conclusion of Catholic Exchange’s interview with Father Robert Spitzer, SJ.