I recently heard J. Warner Wallace present the “SLED” argument against abortion, on the Please Convince Me podcast. I was immediately attracted to this argument because it’s careful, analytical and simple – qualities that always make for a good argument. So I want to promote SLED here too, as a better way to analyze the abortion issue.
But first I want to point out a semantic problem that Wallace highlighted. We often refer to the life inside the womb as the “human fetus”, but this is actually a category error because the noun in this case becomes the “fetus” and “human” becomes the adjective. This is backwards. By using this language we’re saying that “this thing in the womb is a fetus”, which sort of detracts from its humanness.
But this “thing in the womb” is a human (that’s the noun), and the adjective we ought to use to describe that noun is “fetal,” which makes the distinction that it’s inside the womb. So although society is calling the unborn a “human fetus”, it’s more accurate to call it a fetal human. ((This great point was made by J. Warner Wallace – the host of Please Convince Me))
SLED is an acronym that stands for:
- Level of Development
- Degree of Dependency
These are the qualities that can be used to distinguish the born from the unborn. The unborn are small, not fully developed, in the womb, and wholly dependent on their mother. But do any of these qualities affect the value of the human fetus? I’ll analyze it one quality at a time.
Clearly an unborn human fetus is a lot smaller than a newborn baby. But does difference in size determine how ”human” one is? If it does, then Shaquille O’Neal would be much more human than Earl Boykins. And I would actually be a lot more human than my wife! (I’m about a foot taller) ((J. Warner Wallace uses this analogy in his podcast: episode 244))
But Shaq, Earl Boykins, my wife and I are all equally human even though we vastly differ in size. So the fetal human should not be considered “less human” than adults on the basis of their being smaller.
Level of Development
There is a huge discrepancy between the mental development of a toddler and that of a PhD. But is the toddler “less human” than the scholar because of this mental gap? Not hardly. The toddler is just as human as the doctor, even though he is not as mentally developed. How about the mental handicapped? Are they less human because of their deficiency? No. They are 100% human in spite of their mental deficiency.
The same logic follows for physical development. LeBron James, for example, is physically superior to myself, but this doesn’t mean that he has attained a higher level of “humanness” right? I think we can confidently claim that humanity is not anchored in intellect or physical ability. So then, a fetal human cannot not be considered “less human” simply because they are less developed than adults.
As far as location, the only thing that separates us from a fetal human is that they’re in the womb and we’re outside the womb. But did passing through the birth canal somehow inaugurate us into personhood?
It’s strange to think that the process of abortion is legal when done within the womb, yet it would be considered homicide if performed on an infant outside womb. Consider the process of the Dilation & Evacuation abortion method:
- A clamp enters the cervix and grasps body parts of the fetus at random
- The body parts are torn from the fetal body and pulled out of the vaginal canal
- Finally the skull is grasped, crushed and removed from the vaginal canal
You can see an illustration of this process here. But what if this process were done to a newborn infant? One might receive the death penalty for that. But it’s considered permissible if the infant is located inside the womb? What a queer sort of logic.
Degree of Dependency
Through the nine month pregnancy process, the fetal human wholly depends on its mother to survive. But does “degree of dependency” determine how human one is? If it does, then those on life support, or those who require a pacemaker, or kidney dialysis, should be considered less human than those who don’t. But I think everyone recognizes those with a pacemaker to be as equally human as the next guy. So the degree that someone depends on something (or someone) cannot be a good measure of humanness.
To wrap up: If none of the qualities above can be a determining factor of human value, on what basis is the homicide of the fetal human permissible? I’ve yet to hear an answer other than “you can’t tell me what to do with me body.”