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Answering the Pro-Abortion “Viability” Argument

Trent Horn

Trent Horn debates a caller who says it is permissible to end the life of a fetus because it can’t survive by itself–i.e., has no viability–outside of the womb.


Host: Rebecca, welcome to Catholic Answers Live.

Caller: Hi, thank you for having me.

Host: So why are you pro-choice, Rebecca?

Caller: I am pro-choice–I’m not ashamed to say my age, I am 40 years old this year, I was born in 1974 obviously, so post Roe v. Wade–and I am pro-choice because I was raised that pro-life equals anti-woman, which is the first thing; and I actually became a nurse and now I’m a psychologist, I got my doctorate, but it wasn’t until I got older, and…as I told your producer, I’m pro-choice but I want discussion. And I think right now in America there is no room, especially for a woman of my age, to have a discussion from the other side. I’m a cradle Catholic, I was raised Catholic, married in the Catholic Church, my husband is actually from Belfast, Ireland, and very Catholic and very proud to be so.

Trent: Rebecca, we’ll have to go here to a break really soon, but can I ask you a quick question? Why is pro-life anti-woman? I don’t understand that.

Caller: I think that it’s made to be–all of the literature, all of the teachings, even in sex ed in schools, it’s–you can’t tell a woman what to do with her body. It’s her property. It’s her choice. It has nothing to do with a woman, and it’s gonna save me somehow.

Host: Rebecca, this is Patrick, we’re just about to run into that hard break that we have to take, we don’t have a choice, but that’s the timing of it. But if you’re willing to stick around a little bit, we can have the have the very open topic you’ve been hoping to have, and now the country and the rest of the listeners around the world will hear it. So thanks so much for your question and for your willingness to engage.


Host: Rebecca in Barrington, Illinois is pro-choice, she’s married to a Catholic man from Belfast, Ireland, and she has been taught that, at least on an impression level, that to be pro-life is to be anti-woman. Have I summarized your position accurately, Rebecca?

Caller: Yes you have, and actually it was something, I believe–I just wrote down Trent’s book that I have to get, and I just remembered, instantly and in a moment, of why I was pro-choice and when I first got that impression. And it was my first year of high school, I went to Catholic grammar school for eight years and then I went to a public high school, where in my very first sex ed class, all they did when they presented the topic of abortion was say: “This is by men and older women, and this Catholic Church, who has the troubles of molestation and they’re totally anti-woman, they want to keep women in bondage.”

Host: Rebecca, who told you that?

Caller: It was my first sex ed teacher. We had “Becoming A Person” in my grammar school, where my dad is actually a teacher–

Host: So it’s a cumulative effect built up over time.

Trent: Alright, Rebecca, yeah, I want to just address this so far, because I guess I’m having a hard time seeing how a lot of this really relates to abortion very much. I mean, tell me this–here’s my position: all human beings have an equal right to live, regardless of how old they are or young they are, and regardless of whether they live in a crib or in the womb.

Now, tell me: what is anti-woman about that position? Now, I would understand, if I said that only women could not have abortions, but men could have abortions, that would be anti-woman, I’d agree with you. But I’m not saying that. I’m just saying: all humans are equally valuable, have an equal right to live; whether they’re in the crib or in the womb, we protect their lives. Tell me, Rebecca, what’s anti-woman about that?

Caller: I now see your point, having gotten older a little, but I am still–fetal viability, which was supposedly the way–I’m sorry?

Host: How do you define “viability,” Rebecca?

Caller: Can the baby, the unborn, preborn–it’s that language too, again, is looked down so much in society that I think people who are very pro-life don’t really look around and see how we’re teaching our young women.

Host: Okay, Rebecca, but what’s “viable?”

Caller: “Viable,” meaning “Can they live by themselves outside of the womb?” And I still believe that that’s how life is determined.

Host: Well Rebecca, you’re talking to two dads here, I remember him birth of my kids very vividly–Trent more than me–how long would your son last, after being born, if left alone?

Trent: Yeah if–even now, my son’s four months old, if he was left on his own he would probably be dead in 24 to 48 hours. He can’t care for himself. He’s not viable in that sense. I mean, there are some children, they’re not viable for decades until they’re 30 or 40 years old, they can’t–they’re so immature, they can’t care for themselves.

I guess, Rebecca, here’s my question: why does viability matter? Why is it the case that we can say: “It’s legal to kill a baby when they are totally dependent on their mom, but it’s illegal to kill that baby when other people can take care of them?” How does that make sense?

Caller: I’m trying to think of a really good way to answer that, and all I can do is–so please forgive if I go into rhetoric that I was taught, was not “Can the baby survive and feed itself,” but things like, “Could this baby breathe on its own?”

Trent: You’re saying, “Unless this child can live outside of the womb, they’re not a person.” That’s your position.

Caller: That, yes, that is what I have believed for the longest time.

Trent: And here’s my question, though: why is that child not a person when they’re living and growing in the womb?

Caller: Because technically, even through nursing school, we’re taught that up until about the sixth or seventh month of gestation, that baby technically will be called a parasite. Not that I believe babies are parasites, but I have come in time…

Trent: Why is the baby a parasite?

Caller: Because it cannot survive or even just stay in life without getting all of its nutrients, oxygen, blood supply from another human being.

Trent: Right, so, Rebecca, here’s your position, basically: it’s okay to kill a baby when they’re at their maximum level of helplessness. Right?

Caller: I see that.

Trent: And does that sound compassionate?

Caller: Not at all.

Trent:“It’s okay to kill a baby because they’re at their maximum level of helplessness. When they’re at 90% helplessness, then it’s not okay.”

Caller: Then it’s wrong. When it’s cute and cuddly it’s wrong, but before it’s not.

Trent: And the only difference here is they’ve just become a little bit more helpless. For me, what does it matter? That’s right, when they’re in the womb, they need their mother to survive. But we all went through that stage. I just don’t see, how does it make sense that just because someone is very helpless, it means they don’t deserve our assistance? If anything, Rebecca, I think it’s reversed; that when someone is very very helpless–like crimes against children are worse than crimes against adults.

Caller: And crimes against the elderly are unforgivable, absolutely.

Trent: Because of the helplessness. When a victim is more helpless, the crime is even worse. So just because the child–to me, saying “It’s okay to end the life of a fetus because they’re not viable;” well, part of the definition of a “fetus” is just “you can’t live outside of the womb.” That’s just picking something–yes, that’s what they are, but that doesn’t give us a reason to think they don’t deserve assistance like other people. So I think that’s where you and I–I believe all humans should be treated equally, no matter how helpless they are.

Host: I hear someone who’s divided, Rebecca. I’m not buying that you’re a fully committed ideologue here. I think you’re on the fence and maybe, frankly, shaking a little bit.

Caller: I will admit, I am shaking, and when I was in college I marched for pro-choice, I was one of the other counter-protesters outside of a clinic, and now, having met someone who has always been devoted in his faith and in the teachings of our Church, and…thankfully my parents let me decide and learn things for myself, I remember asking these questions even in graduate school, and what I think people don’t understand in the pro-life movement is that, you know how you were just speaking about the Holocaust, if you it said “Oh gosh, I don’t want to look at that, that’s horrible,” you would be damned for it. I’m saying that, as a woman, as a young woman, if I had said “Why do we really determine that that’s not a baby–” because the language that you just said, about a person being its most helpless, a baby being its most helpless, in schools and colleges even, that that is not a baby, it’s not a baby until it’s born and can breathe on its own…

Host: Right, hence terms like “parasite.”

Caller: I think that’s a way, you know, when people say that our schools don’t…

Trent: Rebecca, let me jump in here for a second. Let me jump in. I would agree that in these schools, in some context, when we talk about abortion we do that. But in other contexts, when we talk about trying to save the baby’s life, and the mom wants the baby and prevent a miscarriage, then we can recognize it’s a baby.

But I do thank you very much for calling, and for thinking through these issues. And I hope that you’ll continue to think it through, and that you’ll pick up a copy of my book Persuasive Pro-Life; and in there, you can see the whole position, and that I think it’s rooted in science and reason, and it’s a compassionate and fair position.

Host: Am I remembering correctly that you talk about the concept of viability? That’s completely relative. I mean, if I live on an ice floe on the Baffin Island in the Arctic, and my wife’s pregnant, versus in downtown Los Angeles next to Children’s Hospital, viability is a very bendy, flexible term.

Trent: Viability changes with technology, so that’s one reason to think that it’s not a good measure of whether you’re a person.

But for me, there’s a more fundamental problem and that’s this: yes, there is a fact, at a point, when a child can survive outside of the womb; but why does that matter? Who cares? We, as born people, assign value to living outside the womb, but why does it have value? Because we’re all like that? That’s like saying, you know, a bunch of men saying, “Having a Y chromosome is great, because we’ve all got it.” Well, who says? To me, it just doesn’t follow in that.

It just becomes a circular argument to say “Viability matters, because that’s when you can survive on your own.” Well why does that matter? “Because when you can survive on your own, that’s when you’re viable.” Right. It’s completely circular.

And also, Patrick, I mean, lots of animals are viable. Like rats. When they’re born, they’re all viable. They can survive outside of the womb. But they’re not people. You’d say, “Well, they’re not human.” Ah, so that’s the criteria then, really. It’s being human and viable. But then why does the human part matter at all?

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