“Murder” weapons or “manslaughter” weapons: does it make a difference?
David Swindle objects to my uncompromising description of abortion as murder on the grounds that the term “murder” presupposes the mother’s intent to be causing the death of something she knows to be a person. At most, he says, “manslaughter” is a more appropriate description, because by pro-lifers’ (myself included) own admission, many women seeking abortions may not know that science unambiguously proves that human life begins with fertilization, making zygotes, embryos, and fetuses every cell as much a “human being” as David and me.
For the record, my position isn’t that abortion-seekers are purely innocent dupes. I have no doubt that, thanks to the lies spread with impunity by the champions of “choice” and their foot soldiers, many are sincere in their ignorance of embryology. But I’m also aware that many either know what they’re destroying, or are callously indifferent. Whether or not the former group constitutes a majority of abortion-seekers, I don’t know; the only claim I make is that the number is substantial. And I admit that ignorance of the facts doesn’t fully exempt someone from moral responsibility for their actions (I thought the house was empty when I set it on fire, honest!).
That said, I’ll grant David’s point that, if we’re accounting for intent, abortion may sometimes be “manslaughter” and not “murder.” But does that change anything? Not really.
For one thing, the current controversy over abortion is not how to punish it, but whether or not it should be protected as a right or prohibited as a violation of rights. Because both terms denote homicide, downgrading abortion to manslaughter doesn’t magically make abortion either ethically sound or legally tolerable.
I employ the “powerful rhetorical weapons” that I do to convey the severity of abortion. The state-sanctioned and culturally-celebrated destruction of innocent, defenseless humans does not belong on the same moral plane as any number of things we might describe as “unfortunate,” “onerous,” “distasteful,” or “stupid,” like far-reaching smoking bans, wrongheaded federal spending, or misguided attempts to provide healthcare via government.
No, abortion is an atrocity, something a civilized, post-Enlightenment world should look upon with shock and revulsion. And regardless of motive, “murder” is as good a term as any to describe it—I think most people will recognize “murder” as distinguishing between just and unjust killing, without inferring too much about the offender’s intent.
Just as the arson we alluded to earlier is no more tolerable when practiced by some punk who likes fire than by a true sadist, neither do the motives or knowledge of a woman seeking abortion lessen the horror of the act itself as an affront to civilization, or the urgency of ending the slaughter.