Of Burning Buildings, Hostages And Preborn Babies

Every political season we get around to the same old arguments, don’t we! The one I heard today is typical. A dear man wrote that he was concerned about people who appear to be “all or nothing” in their position on abortion, and that if he were stuck in a burning building, he would want someone to rush in and save him, even if others might perish.


Well of course each of us would, if in the same situation, want someone to save our life if at all possible. The real question here is whether or not that analogy, and others like it, actually applies to preborn children. Should we just leave those who are conceived in rape or incest or who are described as a threat to their mother’s life, and only try to save the others?

Supporters of exceptions to abortion often draw such analogies to support their opinion. These comparisons usually pose a question involving a rescue scenario. For instance, one analogy asks: If you were negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages, wouldn't you accept an offer to free only the women and children and then keep working to free the men?

The obvious answer is yes—anyone would accept the offer to release the women and children. As noted above, as long as one does not deny another person's right to life, it is better to save some lives than none.

Does such an analogy validate exceptions to an abortion ban? No. All that such comparisons do is provide support for an incremental approach to stopping abortion.

In the hostage scenario, for example, the acceptance of the release of the women and children is consistent with a step-by-step approach to ending the crisis.

If the negotiator communicating with the terrorists were to employ the tactics used in exception bills, though, he would say something like, "Yes, we accept the women and children and will keep working for the release of all the innocent prisoners, but in the meantime, you won't be prosecuted if you kill any of the men."

Exceptions don't just prohibit certain abortions, they explicitly state that other abortions shall be legally permitted. They cannot be likened to running into a burning building to save as many lives as possible—unless one enters the building with the intention of saving only certain classes of people.