Pro-Life Apologetics 101

This lecture was given by Dr. Richard Boothe, a physician at Saint Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, after the Sanctity of Life Mass, January 22, 2005, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.


The word comes from the Greek meaning suitable for defense. It is the discipline or process of making a formal defense vindicating some idea, religion, or philosophy.


• To explain the critical information, ideas, and logic that forms the foundation of pro-life beliefs.

• To enable participants to explain their pro-life beliefs to their children, grandchildren, friends and acquaintances and to those who disagree and challenge the validity of our beliefs.

• My talk will be limited to apologetics that directly apply to the issues of the unborn whether that be abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or cloning.

III. Arguments on this issue can be based upon three different levels of knowledge.

1.) Intellectual (science and reason)

2.) Spiritual (scripture and Church teachings)

3.) Common sense

• The primary focus of this talk will center on

1.) The intellectual, scientific, and logic arguments

2.) The Declaration of Independence

IV. To begin, one must clearly understand the basic, logical rationale with which pro-life advocates argue against abortion, stem cell research, and cloning.

That rationale is the following:

1) Intentionally killing an innocent human being is morally wrong.

2) Elective abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

3) Hence, elective abortion is a serious moral wrong.

V. There are three essential elements that must be addressed in any debate on the rights of the unborn.

1) Definition of human being.

2) Definition of person.

3) The Declaration of Independence.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

VI. Is the unborn a human being?

A. The law of biogenesis

In the 19th century, scientists such as Pasteur and Redding developed a notion which became a scientific law.

The law of biogenesis says two things:

1) All life comes from life. Life cannot originate from something that is not living.

2) Each living thing reproduces its own kind and only its own kind. In other words, human parents can only produce human offspring.

Therefore in order to determine what a living thing is, simply figure out what its parents are and you have your answer.

B. When does life begin?

The only scientific answer to that is at conception. This is true whether we are talking about a dog, a rabbit or a human being. Scientifically life begins at conception. Conception occurs at the point of fertilization and it is at the point of fertilization that something truly remarkable takes place. In the case of human beings, an egg from the woman with 23 chromosomes unites with a sperm from the man which also has 23 chromosomes. This creates a zygote which has 46 chromosomes. It does not have all the chromosomes of the mother nor all the chromosomes of the father. It has a unique chromosomal set and it is alive and growing. At this point, by scientific assessment, we have a new living being that is uniquely distinct and separate from her parents. It is definitely a living being. It is undergoing and experiencing the same biological and biochemical processes of any other living being. And furthermore, it is growing at an incredibly rapid rate.

C. What kind of being is this new embryo.

According to the law of biogenesis and the science of reproduction, we have a new, distinct, living being that can be nothing else but a human being, because her parents could not produce anything else but a human being.

Therefore, the best definition of what is a human being is any being of human origin. An embryo or a fetus is a distinct living being of human origin.

D. Gradualism

Pro-choice advocates try to counter this definition through the argument of gradualism.

Gradualism is the notion that the fetus is a different thing at each stage of development. Because if you take photographs of a developing fetus you would see something different at various stages of development.

The logical problem with gradualism is that it fails to have a clear fix on what it means for a thing to be a thing.

A thing is itself and not something else. It remains itself as long as it continues to exist.

• Beings do not transform into different beings. They are what they are regardless of how their appearance might change.

• It does not follow that if you take a picture of me at birth, another at 6 months of age, another at six years of age, another at 60 years of age that I am a different being simply because I look completely different at each one of those ages. Although my appearance changed, I, as a distinct individual being have remained the same. At no point in that time have I died and then been transformed into something else. The same is true of the zygote, embryo and fetus.

• Pro-life advocates argue that human life is a continuum of being starting at conception and ending at death. You did not come from an embryo, you once were an embryo. You did not evolve from fetus, you once were a fetus. Just as you once were a newborn, an infant, a toddler, a teen-ager. This position is both scientifically and logically sound.

E. DNA Evidence

Scientific evidence for the proposition that a human being is any being of human origin has never been on firmer scientific foundation than it is today. The entire science of DNA, chromosomes, the human genome, clearly shows that a human being can beidentified as a human being by its chromosomal and genetic makeup regardless of the stage of development.

• The unborn is not a potential human but is a human with great potential. No living thing changes from one kind of being into another over time. They only change their form. What they are stays the same. Their unique genetic make up remains the same.

• If pro-choice advocates choose to reject the scientific evidence that I have just presented for the humanity of the unborn, they must explain two things.

1.) They must explain what the unborn actually is. It is not sufficient to say that it is a potential this or potential that.

Potential does not exist materially. Materially the embryo or the fetus exists and is alive so if it is not a human being, what exactly is it? That answer must be clearly and scientifically elucidated. The explanation must be strong enough to refute the scientific law of biogenesis.

The answer is not that an embryo is an embryo, not a human being. That is no different than saying a teenager is a teenager or a toddler is toddler. Embryo is simply a description of a human being at a certain stage of development.

2.) They must explain how two human beings can create a separate living being that is not human, in clear violation of the law of biogenesis. Then they must explain how that being that is not human transforms in to a human being. HOW this happens must be explained scientifically.

VII. Personhood verses humanity.

A. In actual fact, most thoughtful pro-choice advocates have conceded the entire argument of whether or not the unborn are human beings. The scientific evidence is too overwhelming and the rational arguments too compelling for any reasonable person to successfully argue against them.

• The fight is now waged on the concept of personhood. Pro-choice advocates will concede that the embryo is a human being but it is not a person.

• Once the personhood argument is introduced many people then begin to say "This is a difficult issue. It is a confusing issue. It is hard to come to a real proper understanding."

In actuality, the personhood of the unborn is not a difficult issue and it is not confusing. It is a very simple issue when it comes to the facts themselves. What confuses the issue is the question itself. When is a human being, a human being but not a person?

When is a rock not a stone? When is a robin not a bird? When is a stallion not a horse?

• To the argument that, although the unborn is a human being, it is not a person, a very simple but critical question must be answered.

What exactly is the difference between a human being and a person? Which human beings are persons and which human beings are not and why. What exactly defines the difference.

This is a critically important question that the pro-choice advocate must clearly answer because they are very willing to sacrifice the life of a human being which they claim is not a person. If that is the case, then the burden of proof is upon them to clearly show the distinct difference between the two.

B. There are four basic differences between the unborn and the newly born that pro-choice advocates site as differences that are so clear and so undeniable that they are morally relevant to the point of allowing the mother with the help of her physician to take the life of her unborn child.

1.) Size.

The unborn is so small, so tiny that it is obviously not worthy of personhood or the rights afforded to human beings who are persons.

If size is the morally relevant factor, what size of human being confers the right of personhood and is the greater thesize, the greater the rights. Obviously the unborn is smaller than the newborn. But the newborn is considerably smaller than the toddler. The toddler is smaller than an 8 year old.

The 8 year old considerably smaller than a teenager and so on.

Following this line of reason, then does that mean that the newborn or the infant has less right to protection under the law than the teenager or the adult? Of course not. Does Shaquil O'Neal, who is a much bigger person than Gloria Steinhem, have more rights under the law than Gloria simply because he is bigger. How exactly is size the morally relevant factor and what is the exact size that conveys personhood onto a human being.

2.) Level of development.

It is true that the unborn is less developed than the newborn. Is this morally relevant? A newborn is considerably less well developed than a toddler. A toddler is less well developed than the adolescent and the adolescent is still less developed than the adult. Nevertheless, we speak of them all equally as persons. All have the same rights under the law. Development and the process of development is an important aspect of being a person but how can it define personhood.

• If robots could do all that persons do behavorially and some day they might, would they then be a person simply because they have a highly developed level of dexterity, memory or logic. These absurd conclusions follow from defining personhood based on what a being can do rather than what she is.

• Personhood stems from being. A person is one with a natural inherent capacity to give rise to personal acts even if he lacks the current ability to perform those acts. Persons who are unconscious do not have the present capacity to perform personal acts but we are not allowed to kill them nor should we be allowed to kill the unborn who is in a very similar state and condition.

3.) Environment

It is true that the unborn is located in a different place than the newborn but how does a change in location suddenly change a non-human entity into a human one. A fetus connected to the incubator of her mother's womb is no less a child than the one being sustained on an incubator in neonatal intensive care unit.

It should be quite obvious that you do not start being a human being or stop being one simply because you have a different address.

4.) Degree of dependency.

If viability is what makes one human, then all those dependent on kidney machines, heart pace-makers, or insulin could be declared non-persons. There is no ethical difference between an unborn child who is plugged into and dependent upon its mother than a kidney failure patient who is plugged into a dialysis machine. Or a patient with a head injury who is on a ventilator. Or Siamese twins who are alive and thriving. Are they eligible to forfeit their life simply because they depend upon each other's circulatory systems.

• The unborn child differs from the newborn child in only four ways. Size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency. None of these differences stand the scrutiny of reason and logic for differentiating a human being who is a person from one who is not.

C. Functionalism

Abortion advocates like Professor Mary Ann Warren claim that "a person" is a living entity with feelings, self-awareness, consciousness, and the ability to interact with his or her environment. Because embryos and fetuses supposedly have none of these capabilities, they can not be fully human.

Warren and people like her, take these criteria for personhood as givens, without any attempt to say why a person must possess these traits. In doing so she espouses the doctrine of functionalism: the belief that what defines human persons is what they can or can not do.

• Functionalism, however, is seriously flawed because it fails tomake a number of critical distinctions and results in savage inequality.

1.) One can fail to function as a person vet still be a person. A person under general anesthesia or in a reversible coma is not self- aware and can not reason. Nevertheless, we do not call into question their humanity or personhood. We recognize, that although they can not function as a person, they still have the being of a person which is the essential thing.

The key question that pro-choice folks must answer is how many functions can I lose and still be myself? If I lose my sight, am I still me? If my legs and arms are lost, am I still me? If I can not speak or hear, am I still me? If my 1.0. were less than 80 would I still be a person. Do I lose my personal identity because I can not do everything you can do? Do I lose my right to live because I am helpless and dependent? Do stronger, more capable people have more rights than others?

The answer to these questions is obviously no. No physical change or loss of function could cause you to cease being who you are unless that change ends your life.

2.) One must be a person in order to function as one. The key idea here is what proceeds what and what is necessary for the other? Does a robot become a person if it can solve logical problems, assemble a car, possesses incredible memory, interact with its environment. Does a dog become a person because it can display feelings of fear or anger?

A person grows in the ability to perform personal acts only because he is the kind of being that possesses the potential capability to perform personal acts. In other words, my thoughts and feelings, indeed all of my functional abilities can not exist unless I first exist. However, I can exist without them. They can not exist without me.

3.) The rights of individuals in our society are not based on their current or actual capabilities but rather on their inherent capacities.

From the moment of conception, the unborn human has the Natural, inherent capacity to function as a person. What he lacks is the current capacity to do so.

This same emphasis on inherent as opposed to actual capacity is underscored in the accepted bio/ethical criteria for brain death.

According to the Uniform Determination of Death Act present in the health and safety codes of every state, the deciding factor is not your current state of brain function but your inherent potential for brain function.

Regardless of whether or not you are comatose, or have to have your respirations assisted with a ventilator, or can not respond even to deep painful stimuli, for death to occur there must be an "irreversible cessation of all function of the entire brain including the brain stem". Hence, the reversibly comatose are never classified as "non-persons" under our existing legal system despite their current lack of brain function as long as the brain maintains the inherent state of brain function.

At the moment of conception, the unborn has the inherent capacity to have a functioning brain even though it lacks the current capacity. Hence there is no ethical difference between the unborn and the reversibly comatose person who is momentarily unconscious and who enjoys the full protection of the law despite their current inability to function as a "person".

4.) Functionalism results in savage inequality. It is one thing to say that critical thinking distinguishes us as a human being. It is quite another to say that your right to live depends on how intelligent you are.

A century ago it was felt by many that it was perfectly logical and permissible to discriminate personhood on the basis of skin color and gender. Utilizing those characteristics to define personhood today is obviously a flawed and erroneous assumption. But today we try to do exactly the same thing based upon brain development and intelligence.

5.) Those who espouse functionalism ignore the question of person identity. Personal identity defines personhood as a being who possesses a human nature or the essence of humanity. This not only makes certain functions possible but also allows the being to retain personal identity through various stages of change. For example, I may lose certain abilities or functions but as long as I'm still alive I remain myself because I have a human nature.

6.) Functionalism misses the distinction between the substance of a thing and the property of things. All living things have obvious properties and capacities that come and go, change and mature and at times are lost. Those properties, however, do not change the identity of the being itself. What moves a puppy to maturity or a fetus to an adult is not an external collection of parts or properties but rather an internal defining nature or essence. A puppy does not become more of a dog as it matures. A being will develop accidental property such as self-awareness, size, physical structure as it matures, but these properties are non-essential and can be changed without altering the very nature of the thing itself. A person can lose a body part or an entire body function and yet retain his personal identity despite that change.

Someone can not be in the process of becoming a human person since one must first exist in order to enter the process. The argument of substance or essence over property or capacity as the defining point of personhood clarifies itself over the issue of change. The pro-life advocate says that your humanity or personhood is defined by your being not by your functionality or capacities. Thus a person remains who they are over time and change. Without this, you would lose your identity and your personhood as change occurs and as capacities come and go.

Ask yourself this common sense question in an effort to prove in your own mind that it is substance and essence over capacity and function that defines personhood. Were you ever a teenager? Were you ever a 6 year old child? Do you believe you were ever an infant? Do you think it is possible that you could be who you are today if you had never been a fetus? Do you believe that you ever existed for some period of time inside your mother's womb? It passes not only scientific and philosophical but also common sense reason that personhood is defined by your essence, your substance, your being and not by your functionality, your capacities or the degree with which you have them or don't have them.

VIII. Human Rights

A. One thing that both pro-life and pro-choice advocates can agree upon is that at the very basis of the issue of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning is the issue of human rights.

• Pro-life advocates need to see pro-life issues as those of basic human rights.

• People offer the objection that we should not force a particular morality such as, "abortion is evil", upon other people. Yet virtually everyone who makes that kind of objection actually does believe that there are issues in which morality should be legislated. The most obvious issues that come to mind are slavery, women's rights, civil law against violent crimes, incest, pedophilia.

• The question for us is whether or not the unborn child has unalienable rights the same way that a black person is a human being that must be protected under the law, in the same way that women are created equal to men and therefore have the same unalienable rights as men.

• So what does the Declaration of Independence actually say?

B. Created Equal

• As I read to you at the opening of this talk, it says "All men are created equal". And what does that mean? Obviously all men and women are not created equally physically, intellectually, or materially. We have different sizes, colors, genders, heritages, ethnicities, capabilities, and functional abilities. So what does it mean that all men are created equal? Quite obviously it has nothing to do with any type of functionality or capability. It has nothing to do with our appearance, with our skin color, with our gender. It simply means what it states. All men are equal regardless of their gender, color, intelligence, or capability. They are equal based on the simple fact that they are human beings. Their value and their claim to their God given rights are equal despite how they appear, or what they can do or how much they possess.

C. Inalienable Rights

• Furthermore, it says that we are endowed by our creator withcertain inalienable rights. What is an inalienable right? According to the framers, an inalienable right is a right that is yours by the simple fact that you were created and that you exist, that you are a human being. No person, no legislature, no government can either bestow these rights upon you nor take these rights away from you. The reason that this was put in the Declaration of Independence and not in the Constitution is because it had no place in the Constitution. The Constitution bestows upon us extrinsic rights that the government can either give us or take away. The right to bear arms, the right to free press, the right to free speech. These are not inalienable. These are the rights that the United States decided that it would grant to each citizen. The United States can appeal the Constitution and take these rights away. The United States can add to these rights at their discretion but the United States nor any government, can not take away your inalienable rights.

• And what are the inalienable rights? They are rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

• In a real sense, the conflict that exists between pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates is a conflict that should be settled on the grounds of the three inalienable rights that Thomas Jefferson and John Locke established centuries ago.

D. We have clearly seen that the unborn is most certainly a human being. We have established this scientifically, and through sound philosophical reason and logic.

• I hope we have argued convincingly that personhood can only be defined in terms of the substance and essence of what it means to be a human being. In other words, if you are a human being, you are and can be nothing less than a person. It is impossible to separate personhood and humanity. They are one and the same. To try to do otherwise, you fall into the treachery of either gradualism or functionalism. It is my hope that we have laid the foundational arguments that clearly show the fallacies, the contradictions, and the falsehood of both of these rationalizations.

• So where this issue should be argued and determined is in the proper and appropriate jurisdiction of the founding principles of our country, namely the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

• If we are honest, we will acknowledge that the conflict that exists between pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates is a legitimate conflict between two inalienable rights. The conflict exists between the inalienable right of the unborn to life, and the inalienable right of the woman to liberty, that is to have control over her own destiny, her own body, her own decisions.

• Many in the pro-life movement refuse to acknowledge that there should be any consideration to the woman's right to liberty. In fact, we tend to disregard that right completely. This, I believe, is a serious mistake that discredits us, prevents bridges from being appropriately built between ourselves and those who disagree with us but who could potentially be brought into the same light and understanding that we enjoy. How can this conflict be resolved? The first question to ask is, are all three inalienable rights equal or do some of the inalienable rights take precedence over others and if so why?

In fact, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the Declaration of Independence did not place the three inalienable rights in a random order. Rather they placed them in a specific order. So what order was applied to the inalienable rights? How is it that we can distinguished which right takes precedence over another when two of the inalienable rights come into conflict? The answer to the question involves the principle of "what is necessary to make possible". This principle states that one right takes precedence over another right if that particular right is more basic or fundamental than the right being compared to it. In other words, if in order from me to obtain A first I must possess B. Then B by its very nature is more basic, more necessary, more important than A. Another way to look at this is that in order for A to exist, it is first necessary to have B. If B does not exist, A is not even possible. Therefore B is more fundamental, more basic and must take precedence over A.

E. So how can this principle of "what is necessary to make possible" be applied to our inalienable rights? Logically, in order for a person to enjoy liberty, the person first must have life. Without life, liberty is not possible. Likewise, the same argument could be made that without liberty, the pursuit of happiness or as John Locke put it, the right to own property is not possible. If you are not free, if you are a slave, if you are the property of someone else, then you have no right to your own property because all of your property automatically extends to your owner. Therefore, liberty must first exist for there even to be the possibility of the pursuit of happiness or the ownership of property. Liberty must take precedence over property and is a more fundamental right.

• Considering the issue of abortion, the conflict exists between the right to life of the unborn and the right to liberty of the mother. Clearly, using the principle of "what is necessary to make possible" the right to life is more fundamental and must take precedence over the right to liberty.

• This is what allows us to counter the pro-choice feminists assertation that a woman should have the right to do whatever she wants to do with her own body. Clearly this is a false premise. A woman can not do whatever she wants with her own body and neither can a man. Laws restrict those freedoms given the right set of circumstances. What governs those circumstances is the rights that others have to either life or liberty. For example, my right to choice or my liberty ends when it comes into conflict with another's right to life.

• History clearly shows what occurs when the principle of "what is necessary to make possible" is violated. When a less fundamental right takes precedence over a more fundamental right.

• The classic example of the catastrophic consequences of when a less fundamental right takes precedence of a more fundamental right, is the Dread-Scott decision.

• In 1859 Judge Taney on the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Dread-Scott decision. This decision declared that the property rights of slave owners superceded the rights to liberty of slaves. From the courts perspective, slave owners clearly possessed the right to pursue prosperity in the successful conduct of their businesses and that slave labor was necessary for profitability to be maintained. What was unclear to the court was whether or not black people were truly human beings and therefore had any claim to the right of liberty. The property rights of slave owners was clear, the liberty rights of blacks was in question because their very personhood was questioned.

• It is impossible to deny the consequences of this mistake by the Supreme Court when it failed to recognize the precedence of a more fundamental right over a less fundamental right even when the more fundamental right was less clear than the less fundamental right. Immeasurable suffering, injustice, and atrocities was the byproduct of that decision.

• Pro-choice advocates absolutely detest the comparison of the Dread-Scott decision with Roe vs Wade. Yet despite their protests, the principle or rather the mistake in not following the principle is the same. A less fundamental right was allowed to take precedence over a more fundamental right in both cases. In addition, it was the very same stumbling block, questioning the personhood of a human being based upon some type of material characteristic or capacity that seduced both courts to allow a less fundamental right to take precedence over a more fundamental right.

• The consequences of Roe vs Wade has been the death of 1.5 million babies per year in this country alone since that decision was Is it surprising why pro choice advocates so zealously, and greedy do everything they can to maintain a liberal bias on the Supreme Court.

IX. Conclusion

• Hopefully, you are now armed with the knowledge, the scientific evidence, and the logic necessary to explain, to teach, and to justify your pro-choice beliefs to your children, your grandchildren, and your friends. I also hope that you are now armed to effectively refute those who would challenge those beliefs from a pro-choice perspective.

• But as Christians and for those of us who want to affect real change in our culture and want to convert our country to a genuinely pro-life culture, if necessary one person at a time, it will take more than simple knowledge and understanding and the ability to wage a logical argument.

• Whenever and with whom ever you engage in the discussion of pro-life issues, do so out of love and respect for the unborn, out of love and respect for the person you are speaking with, and out of love and respect for the one true God that created and who loves us all. To do otherwise will not be effective, will not bring about change, will not convert our society, from a culture of death to a culture of life.

• The battle will be won, the conversion will be made through prayer, through understanding, through patience, through firm but respectful persuasion, through persistent action.

X. What can you do?

A. Prayer

The battle for human rights for the unborn, the defenseless, the disabled, and the aged is a political, philosophical, and spiritual struggle. The battle will be won or lost spiritually

The most important single thing that any of us can do is to pray earnestly and daily.

B. Education



Friends, Family

The opposition

C. Social Involvement

Support those activities that support the CHOICE OF LIFE

Write State/Federal Government Representatives

• Personal Moral Authority

Financial Support

• Birth Choice

• Holy Family Home

• Catholic Charities

• Archdiocese Office of Family Life

Elect the right people

Join the workers