NRL News

Any Limitation on Abortion? Ever? The Debate Continues

by | Dec 2, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

Will Saletan

Imagine writing a piece in which you lay out pro-abortion extremism taken to the nth degree. You expect widespread (or at least lots of) confirmation that there have to be SOME limits on abortion, only to discover that the readers who respond online think it’s you are the extremist for believing that any woman’s decision to abort can be second-guessed.

Such is the regrettable fate of Will Saletan, author and columnist for Slate magazine. Saletan, who you might describe as “pro-choice with reservations,” wrote a piece today talking about the debate he had in October with Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, over the issue of late-term abortions. I commented earlier this week on the transcript of Furedi’s remarks which published (

Saletan’s post today gives us a fly on the wall narrative of his debate with Furedi at the Battle of Ideas in London. Since you can read his column—and the extraordinary responses to it—let me address just three points out of a list that is as long as your arm.

Saletan writes, “Furedi opposes any legal time limit on abortion because she thinks the moral significance of fetal development is subjective throughout pregnancy. She’s wrong.”

Saletan, no doubt sincerely, sees himself as occupying the high ground—in this case the “sensible middle” position on abortion. He does not lay out exactly where he would draw the line; Furedi isn’t into line-drawing at all and you strongly suspect that the moment of birth would be like a flashing yellow line as she speeds onto “understanding” infanticide (as do many of the responders to Saletan’s piece today).

That’s why he can speak of pro-lifers and pro-abortionists like Furedi as “allies” in wanting to “flatten the gestational time line”: outlaw all abortions or “tolerate it without end.” In his mind, the common symmetry of absolutists.

But it simply isn’t true that both we and Furedi say that fetal development doesn’t matter. Fetal development matters very much to us because it is the wonder of our humanity playing out from the very beginning. 

However we also understand that development doesn’t confer humanity—to subscribe to that would be to fall into the “abortion is okay at 10 weeks but perhaps not at 39 weeks” trap. It simply expresses the reality there from the moment of conception.  That is a fundamental dividing point out of which so much else follows.

Second (and related), Paul Stark of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life offers a key insight in his essay, “Stuck on the Slippery Slope.” He writes

“Furedi seems to be saying that because there are no morally significant differences between human fetuses at different stages in the womb, and since (she thinks most people believe) the abortion of early fetuses is morally permissible, then it is also the case that the abortion of late fetuses is permissible.

“But one could also argue that because there are no morally significant differences between fetuses at different stages, and because (most people do in fact believe) the abortion of late fetuses is impermissible, then it is also the case that the abortion of early fetuses is impermissible.”

Third, Saletan handed down a chart at the debate, drawn from impeccable non-pro-life sources, that outlines fetal development, step-by-step. He seemed to have assumed that any morally sentient human being could find SOME point in the developmental process where they would say, Enough!” But for Furedi it was all irrelevant as one strongly suspects it was for most of their audience.

Why? Because it’s all “subjective.” And if it’s all subjective, how could you ever question why a woman aborts her child even if she decides as she goes into labor.

As I mentioned in my prior post, part of the reason pro-abortionists double (and triple) down on abortion always and forever is that they believe they otherwise would risk a kind of reverse slippery slope: stop at the edge of the precipice and they’ll take the skis off the right to abort at the top of the mountain.

What I didn’t mention is that these are some cold customers. Again, referring to the responses to Saletan’s piece today, their ability to distance themselves not only from early embryos and from babies in the final stages of development but children outside the womb ought to frighten almost anyone.

Remember the ability to live with oneself at the same time you are annihilating an entire category of human being is to insist they fail some test. And if you raise the bar high enough, massive numbers of people will flunk. Moreover, whatever the bar is today can be raised tomorrow.

Saletan made the point in his piece and at the conference that according to “The Emergence of Human Consciousness: From Fetal to Neonatal Life,” the “neural development trajectory outlined doesn’t end at birth. It runs through the first three years of life.”


This never-never-never any limitations on abortion position (which is first-cousin to being soft on infanticide) may seem to be a position held by only the outer fringes of the pro-abortion movement, a wild and totally unrepresented subsample. And in one sense it clearly is.

But it equally true that there is no end of mischief once you refuse to acknowledge that our humanity is intrinsically ours and put in its place an insistence that we must earn it. That road leads ultimately to madness.

You can read Saletan’s post at

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Categories: Abortion