You’re in a burning fertility clinic and hear a 5-year-old child crying for help. Across the room is a container marked “1,000 Viable Human Embryos.” The flames are rising, smoke is filling the air, and you can only save one: the child or the container of embryos. According to Tomlinson, if you would choose to save the crying child, you’re betraying the fact that, whatever you may say, you really believe embryos aren’t equivalent to human beings. How, otherwise, could you justify saving one over 1,000?
Click here to listen or read below Breakpoint's John Stonestreet respond to this and other "gotcha arguments" put forth by abortion activists.
The moment Roe v. Wade was overturned last month,
desperate activists began to dust off the oldest and oddest arguments for
abortion. These “gotcha” scenarios are supposed to prove that pro-lifers don’t
really value human life or consider preborn babies from the earliest stages of
development to be human. Instead, these pretend scenarios demonstrate that
pro-lifers are simply hypocrites.
On closer inspection, however, these scenarios fail to
convince. For example, there’s the so-called “burning fertility clinic”
scenario. A friend emailed me recently and asked for a response to this one,
which as best I can tell, was invented by author Patrick Tomlinson.
It goes like this. You’re in a burning fertility clinic
and hear a 5-year-old child crying for help. Across the room is a container
marked “1,000 Viable Human Embryos.” The flames are rising, smoke is filling
the air, and you can only save one: the child or the container of embryos.
According to Tomlinson, if you would choose to save the crying child, you’re
betraying the fact that, whatever you may say, you really believe embryos
aren’t equivalent to human beings. How, otherwise, could you justify saving one
“Gotcha,” right? Not really. First, this argument has
nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. In no instance does a woman or her
doctor ever choose between saving the life of one child at an advanced stage of
development, or 1,000 at an earlier stage. Abortion involves the intentional
killing of one or multiple children who, in most cases, would have lived if
left alone. There’s no analogy, here, which means as an argument for abortion,
the burning fertility clinic is toast.
But even sitting that important point aside, the decision
to save the imaginary 5-year-old over the embryos—which for the record, I would
make—doesn’t necessarily reflect my view of the embryos’ humanity. It only
reflects what I would do with limited time in a no-win situation. Perhaps, I
would be acting on an impulse to stop conscious suffering, or to prevent
parents from losing a child whose face and voice they know, or from a
spur-of-the-moment instinct to answer a cry for help. None of these actions has
any equivalence to an intentional killing, and none of them means I consider
embryos less than human.
Of course, abortion activists continue to repackage this
flawed scenario, again and again, with help from media sources. Last week in
The Washington Post, another and even more bizarre form of this argument
surfaced. Harvard ethics professor Daniel Wikler and Northwestern University law professor Andrew
Koppelman argued that if state lawmakers who are now outlawing abortion really
believe embryos are human beings, they should be panicking over the sudden
statistical spike in their states’ infant mortality rates.
As these professors write: “30 percent of human embryos
spontaneously self-abort”—or are miscarried. These deaths aren’t normally
counted in infant mortality statistics, which only account for deaths after
birth. But if embryos are human persons, these profs argue, infant mortality
stats should include miscarriages. If we did that, though, we would be looking
at mortality rates more than twice those of the most dangerous countries on
earth—a true public health crisis! They conclude: “the fact of spontaneous
abortion shows that opponents of abortion do not themselves believe what they
This “gotcha” scenario has nothing to do with abortion,
which is, once again, the intentional killing of unborn babies. Their use of
the term “spontaneous abortion” instead of “miscarriage” may be medically
acceptable but muddies this crucial distinction.
And consider their logic: Lots of miscarriages,
tragically, do happen. If pro-life lawmakers aren’t adequately panicking about
this, they must not really think intentionally killing unborn babies is wrong?
That is like saying if you aren’t panicked about children dying during a
pandemic, you can’t be against a shooter gunning them down in a school. It’s an
absurd line of thinking yet, in the frenzy of a post-Roe abortion movement,
passes for Ivy-League–level ethical reasoning.
None of these “gotcha” arguments should intimidate
pro-lifers, especially Christians. We have the truth on our side, and now,
thank God, the law in an increasing number of states. Bizarre hypothetical
scenarios cannot change the moral reality that elective abortion is evil. On
close inspection, the “gotcha” scenarios, like the imaginary fertility clinic
in which they so often take place, just go up in smoke.