Pro-choice Methodist minister John M. Swomley, who was the subject of a LifeNews article in May, attempts to refute the claim that preborn babies are “innocent.” The argument appeared in a book over a decade old, but it is so strange and disturbing that I’m writing about it now that it has come to my attention.
The gist of Swomley’s argument is that preborn babies are not “innocent” as pro-lifers claim, but are actually guilty – guilty enough, he implies, to justify aborting them.
Swomley first tries to refute the baby’s claim to innocence using theology:
The first claim is that society should protect innocent human life that is unable to protect itself. The term “innocent,” originally used by various popes, refers to fetal life which has committed no sin. Yet the Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed only one person, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as having an immaculate conception and hence free from original sin. In any event, public policy cannot be founded on theological claims to innocence.
It seems unusual to see a Protestant arguing from a Catholic standpoint. Although I don’t know that many Catholic theologians who would say that because a preborn baby has been conceived with Original Sin, her life should not be protected. Our society does not enforce the death penalty lightly, and condemning a preborn baby to die for having Original Sin goes against both the Christian “Golden Rule” and the physicians’ ethic of “Do No Harm.”
Swomley’s argument would also justify infanticide. A baby outside the womb would still be considered to have “Original Sin” until baptism, in many faith traditions. Therefore, prior to the moment when the priest or pastor pours water on the child’s forehead (or baptizes him some other way) it would be permissible to kill the child.
Also, unless we single out Original Sin as the only type of sin that justifies murdering the sinner, no one would have a right to life because by the standards of modern Christianity, all human beings are sinners. Even by the standards of common sense, if the baby cannot be considered innocent, the rest of humanity certainly cannot be considered innocent either.
Finally, Swomley says that “public policy cannot be founded on theological claims to innocence.” Yet he has no problem justifying abortion with his own theological claim to guilt. His argument is self-refuting because he starts out by making a theological argument, and then says that theological arguments should not be used in the abortion debate, at least not to condemn abortion. Perhaps he is claiming that theological arguments can only be used by the pro-abortion side. This is inconsistent, arbitrary, and unfair.
Swomley has another argument against regarding preborn babies as innocent:
There is another meaning of “innocence” which comes from two Latin words, in (not) and nocere (to harm), and therefore means “not harmful or dangerous.” However, it is precisely the fact that some pregnant women (and their physicians) view the fetus as harmful or threatening to their health or welfare and hence leads them to consider abortion.
Very few pregnancies are a serious risk to a woman’s health, to the extent that her life is in danger. In fact, abortionist Dr. Don Sloan, who has performed for the 20,000 abortions, has said:
If a woman with a serious illness- heart disease, say, or diabetes- gets pregnant, the abortion procedure may be as dangerous for her as going through pregnancy … with diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, even breast cancer, the chance that pregnancy will make the disease worse is no greater that the chance that the disease will either stay the same or improve. And medical technology has advanced to a point where even women with diabetes and kidney disease can be seen through a pregnancy safely by a doctor who knows what he’s doing. We’ve come a long way since my mother’s time….The idea of abortion to save the mothers’ life is something that people cling to because it sounds noble and pure- but medically speaking, it probably doesn’t exist. It’s a real stretch of our thinking.
There are specialists who can get a woman through pregnancy even when they have a serious illness. The number of women who need to abort to save their lives is minuscule. Legalizing abortion across the board because of this tiny group of women does a great injustice to the vast majority of babies killed for less serious reasons, including convenience.
In the court case Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court defined the term “health” in abortion law extremely broadly to include emotional distress. The presence of a preborn baby in her womb may be upsetting to a woman, but that does not mean that the baby (placed there, in fact, by her own actions) is guilty of a capital crime. Some women may be emotionally upset by their pregnancies, but we do not allow people to execute those who upset them.
Swomley’s arguments are disturbing — even shocking, considering he is a Christian pastor. But they, like most pro-abortion arguments, it can be refuted with little effort by any ethical person with common sense.