A Notre Dame Professor Urges the Pope to Rethink Abortion: Part 2

In a recent post I discussed what I think are some of the problems with Notre Dame professor Gary Gutting’s invitation to Pope Francis to rethink the Church’s teaching on abortion.  That post got rather long, so I promised to take up the rest of the argument in a second post.  Herewith, the fulfillment of that promise.

The other problem I would point out with Professor Gutting’s argument is that it is inconsistent, and indeed dangerously inconsistent.  On the one hand, Gutting contends that reason alone can tell us that abortion is morally problematic.  On the other hand, he also contends that reason tells us that it is not as morally problematic as the Church’s absolute condemnation of it suggests.  Fetal life is worthy of some respect, but not the same respect as we would give a fully developed human being.  Why?  Because an early fetus, while “biologically human,” lacks some of the “main features” that “underlie most moral considerations”–features such as “consciousness, self-awareness, and an interest in the future.”


The inconsistency is this: Professor Gutting implies (as I am sure he sincerely believes) that infanticide, or the killing of a newborn, would be wrong; but this conviction is undercut by his tethering of respect for life to “features” that even a newborn does not have, or does not have to any significant degree in comparison with an adult–the aforementioned “consciousness, self-awareness, and an interest in the future.”  At least, if a human infant has these powers, he or she surely does not have them any more than, say, a mature dog or chimpanzee.  But most everybody thinks that you can kill a dog or a chimp for reasons that don’t even begin to approach the weightiness of the reasons you would have to give for killing a human being.  The very argument that Professor Gutting advances to undermine our absolute commitment to the life of an early fetus also undermines his own commitment to the life of the newborn human being.

And, I think the danger of this inconsistency is obvious, since it opens the door to even more violence against innocent human life than our society is currently experiencing.  This would be true at both ends of life.  Someone could allege that an aged person with advanced dementia is lacking in “consciousness, self-awareness, and an interest in the future.”  On that basis, someone could argue that it would be morally permissible to kill such a person.

I am frankly surprised that Professor Gutting would write on this issue as if he were unaware of these difficulties with the position he is trying to defend.  They seem to become clear if you pause to reflect on the argument for a few moments.  But the implications of this position in question also should be known to anyone who has followed the philosophical and ethical arguments about abortion over the last couple of decades.


Categories:Culture Pro-Life

  • Delphin

    Women who are pregnant, with child in the womb is no different than with child outside the womb, and therefore, have no acceptable, moral or ethical ‘choice’ or right to commit murder on that child.

    NFP is acceptable ‘birth control’, not contraception for all the reasons as so eloquently rationalized by Pope Paul VI.

  • Bill

    When a woman decides to have relations with a man, she has decided to take the chance that she may conceive a child. I resent the terms embryo and fetus as these terms are used primarily to deny the child’s humanity.

  • faithandfamilyfirst

    No lie is too great for the liberal left if it advances their agenda. Foolish reasoning is no barrier. Stupidity cannot deter it. Anything and everything for the cause. That is the liberal motto. So sickening.

  • Eric Johnson

    The question remains: does a woman have the right to determine when to bring a child into the world?

    • Joshua Mercer

      If the answer involves “killing the baby” then the law should say no. A child is already brought into the world when he is in mother’s womb — and that’s a place where violence should not be allowed.

      • Eric Johnson

        Your statement says that women who are not pregnant have the right to determine when to bring a child into the world but women who are pregnant do not have this right. Your statement thus implies that using contraceptives is ok because there is no fetus involved and yet the Catholic Church is against the use of contraceptives. Can you see how this logic makes no sense?

        • wheaton4prez

          Eric Johnson. Those are two separate issues and Catholics have a different basis for objecting to each.

          The basis for objecting to abortion is that it is mankind killing a living human being. You bringing up contraception does not challenge the morality of protecting human life from being killed in any way.

          • Eric Johnson

            wheaton4prez, perhaps you misunderstood my point. Joshua has at least implied that a woman has a right to determine whether or not to bring a child into the world as long as it doesn’t include abortion. My question is, if this is so, why does the Catholic Church believe that the use of contraceptives that prevent pregnancy, is wrong?

    • Delphin

      Of course she does, Eric, a woman determines her own sexual and reproductive life in the free world. But, once she is pregnant, she doesn’t get to commit murder, in or out of her womb, on the genetically unique human person.
      What is so hard about this?

    • wheaton4prez

      Eric Johnson. According to your logic, we should also be asking whether or not a woman has a right to kill her child if she finds motherhood objectionable.

      • Eric Johnson

        I assume you mean fetus and not child. A child is someone who has been born.



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