Christians dislike the fertility clinic problem (do you save a child or a thousand frozen embryos from a fire?). They want to talk about anything but the conclusion of the argument.

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The fertility clinic problem is this: if a fertility clinic were on fire and you could save either a five-year-old child or a canister with a thousand human embryos, which would you save?

In part 1, I looked at the anti-choice responses by Matt Walsh, Ben Shapiro, and Greg Koukl. They largely accepted the point of the argument, that we’d all save the child over the embryos, but then rambled on down many tangents, oblivious to the fact that the case was closed. “An embryo is a child” is the foundational moral claim for many in the anti-choice community, and by admitting that one actual child is more important than many embryos, they showed that claim to be false.

But it’s against their religion to admit that they’re wrong. Let’s wrap up our look at the points made in these anti-choice arguments.

Less than one percent of never-married women relinquish their newborns for adoption.

Unfair! It’s an emotional argument.

One objection was to reject this as an emotional argument. Koukl complained, “The dilemma simply forces us to make a choice in a no-win situation. It doesn’t draw out buried intuitions that show our real values; it draws out our emotions in a forced choice.”

No, drawing out buried intuitions is exactly what it does.

He’s also wrong about emotional arguments being unfair. This is basically the Portman Effect, named after Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who turned against his party in 2013 to support same-sex marriage. What caused the turnaround was his son coming out as gay. You’d think that people would be good at hypotheticals like, “Gee—what if my kid were gay? Would I still oppose same-sex marriage?” But for some reason, having it happen for real puts things in a new focus.

And so it is with abortion. It’s one thing to stroke one’s chin thoughtfully and harrumph that an embryo is a child, but it’s another to be told, “Child or embryos—choose now!”

(And don’t get me started about men insisting on laws on a matter that can never affect them personally.)

It’s absurd hearing a Christian complain about the unfairness of emotional arguments in support of abortion when anti-choice advocates torment women needing an abortion with posters showing an aborted fetus, the height of emotional manipulation.

More hypotheticals

Shapiro complains that a dangerous fire needing a quick choice has no parallel with the question of whether to have an abortion. “No such hard choice exists in 99.99 percent of abortion cases.” That’s true, but that’s the nature of hypotheticals like this. They’re designed to flush out one’s real attitudes, which are often a surprise to the opinion holders themselves.

Anyway, the complaint is misguided since the hypothetical has done its work by exposing “embryo = child” as false.

Each author is eager to provide his own hypotheticals to replace the original series of tweets from Patrick Tomlinson that started the discussion. Shapiro’s contribution: Imagine now that those thousand embryos are required to save humanity. “Do you save the five-year-old and doom the human species to extinction, or do you save the embryos? … Does that mean the five-year-old is no longer a human being?”

And another: “You can save the box of embryos or you can save the life of a woman who will die of cancer tomorrow. Which one do you save? If you choose the embryos, is the cancer-ridden woman therefore of no moral value?”

Where did “no moral value” enter the discussion? Ditto for the five-year-old no longer being a human being. The point is that Shapiro has agreed that the child is more significant than an embryo, which destroys the capstone of his moral high ground. This admission has exposed an enormous hole in the anti-choice argument. Even if the boys never personally argued “embryo = child,” they must know that it’s central to the anti-choice position. I’m amazed that they don’t confront this directly. Maybe because they can’t.

See also: The Limits of Open Mindedness in Debates on Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion


I can’t leave without highlighting some unrepentant, world class cluelessness. Walsh pounds the virtual table, proclaiming that silly hypotheticals are the tools of a coward. He says, “You don’t seem willing to put all of your fantasy scenarios aside and just deal with what abortion is 99% of the time: the willful choice by a healthy woman to kill a healthy unborn child because the child is inconvenient.”

Inconvenient? Is that your final answer? Have you ever used this argument with a real woman seeking an abortion? Have you told her that her pregnancy is merely an inconvenience? Share with us how she replied.

Consider this example. Suppose a 15-year-old girl got pregnant in large part because the sex ed in her public school focused on abstinence, so she didn’t really know how to prevent pregnancy, and because no contraception was available. She had dreamed of college and a career as a teacher or maybe a doctor, but that’s all in jeopardy now because to take the fetus to term means a life as a mother. And don’t say that there’s always adoption since less than one percent of never-married women relinquish their newborns for adoption.

Convenience isn’t the issue when the girl’s entire life is in the balance. What an idiot.

And look at the wording in his complaint: he referred to an “unborn child.” Nothing has changed as he gropes for the familiar argument, that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is a child. But that trusty old friend is gone, because he admitted that children are different from zygotes. (Clue #1: we have different words for them.)

Spectrum argument

Much of these anti-choice rebuttals were shadow boxing against nonexistent arguments, outraged that the fertility clinic hypothetical didn’t do a better job making arguments it never intended to make.

Let me summarize how this fits into an effective pro-choice argument. Personhood is a spectrum, and the newborn is a person while the single cell isn’t. During the development process, the fetus increasingly becomes a person.

The anti-choice response had been to say that the embryo is 100% a person. In response, you can point at the enormous gulf separating the single cell from the newborn, far more than what separates a newborn from an adult, but evidence and reason can’t move a person away from an argument that they didn’t use evidence and reason to reach. I know—I’ve tried.

And see how the fertility clinic hypothetical changes that. With it, they admit that the embryo isn’t a person.

The spectrum argument doesn’t conclude that abortion should always (or ever) be moral. You could still conclude that the single cell, though not a person, still must be protected, but you’ve got to make that case. No longer can they fall back on, “Well, you wouldn’t kill a newborn, would you? The single cell is the moral equivalent.”

The increasing personhood of the fetus during gestation is the foundation of any argument for abortion, and this hypothetical clears the way.

You are in an air-conditioned facility
with a canister of frozen embryos
and a five-year old child crying about being cold.
You have one sweater.
Do you put it on the canister or the child?
The building then bursts into flames
and you must evacuate immediately.
Do you take the child,
the embryo canister,
or just your sweater?
— commenter Greg G.

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...