Pro-Lifer debates notorious anti-Life ethicist Peter Singer

Last month, Harvard Right to Life hosted the First Annual Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson Symposium.  Due to the ongoing pandemic, the debate, sponsored by Massachusetts Citizens for Life, was streamed online.  The resolution for the debate was: “Abortion is immoral.”  Arguing for the affirmative was Pro-Life advocate Stephanie Gray Connors.  Anti-Life ethicist Peter Singer made the opposing argument. 

The debate, which ran almost 90 minutes, included opening statements from each side, time for rebuttals, cross-examination, and a question-and-answer period.

Gray Connors began by presenting two assumptions with which most people would agree: 1) All humans are equal and killing an innocent human being is wrong, and 2) Parents have an obligation to care for their children, not kill them.  In support of these widely accepted and unquestioned assumptions, Gray Connors cited talks given by Singer himself and a slogan from the Gates Foundation, with which Singer worked, “All lives are equal.”

Gray Connors then presented the evidence that the preborn child is, in fact, human from the moment of conception.  This is not, as is so often portrayed, a religious position but a scientific observation.  Gray Connors described the work of scientist Dr. Maureen Condic whose study of the earliest stages of human development reveal that the preborn child begins at the moment of fertilization and is a living human being.

Having established the fully humanity of the preborn child, Gray Connors described the obligation that parents have for their offspring and the violence of various abortion procedures that are counter to these obligations.  She noted, again citing lectures given by Singer, “He [Singer] talks about the importance of children being in a close and loving family relationship.  Abortion is not demonstrative of that; it is the exact opposite of that, because it involves dismembering, decapitating, and disemboweling what we know to be, based on the evidence I’ve provided, a human being, who is a child of her parents, who should be protected by her parents, not harmed by her parents.” 

In his opening statement, Singer did not attempt to refute the evidence that Gray Connors had presented showing that the preborn child is a human being.  His position reveals that the evidence is irrefutable to any honest observer.  Shockingly, Singer agreed with her assessment that the preborn child is human but argued that even acknowledging that the preborn child is an innocent human being who is violently killed in abortion does not mean that abortion is wrong. 

Singer noted that the abortion debate is often presented in an oversimplified manner when the emphasis on the mother’s “choice.”  He said, “I think the moral status of the embryo and fetus is really the crucial issue and you can’t resolve this issue [abortion]without discussing that.”  He agreed, “Basically, from conception there is a living member of species homo sapiens.” 

And yet, Singer asserted, abortion can be justified because innocent human beings at the earliest stages of development cannot demonstrate what he calls “biographical life,” consciousness of experience and self-awareness.  Glossing over the descriptions Gray Connors gave of abortion procedures, Singer claimed that the only concern with dismembering babies in the womb was that the child should be anesthetized at late stages of pregnancy (though there is emerging evidence that babies can feel pain even in the first trimester). 

Singer acknowledged the implications of his philosophy, saying that personhood is not possible until sometime between six and nine months of age when the child gains cognitive abilities that allow for the arbitrary characteristics Singer thinks are required to be a full person with a Right to Life.  This means, as Singer confirms, that in his view, infanticide—intentionally and directly killing a newborn baby—is justified, a position Singer conceded was “challenging” for many people. 

Singer tried to suggest that animals of different species, because they are conscious, would have an arguably greater claim to the Right to Life than the preborn child, who is not yet conscious.

The implications of Singer’s argument are chilling.  As Gray Connors countered throughout the debate, once people make arbitrary distinctions between classes of human beings, our society opens up the possibility of violence and destruction.  The barbaric killing of preborn babies is not justified by the fact that they have not yet developed the cognitive abilities Singer deems necessary for full personhood.  The fact is that some preborn babies will never develop the full range of cognitive functions that Singer selectively considers necessary to warrant protecting the Right to Life.  Nevertheless, a just society recognizes that child’s inherent Right to Life because the child is human.  

You can watch a replay of the debate in full here.



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