Item description for Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice by Francis J. Beckwith...
Defending Life is the most comprehensive defense of the prolife position on abortion ever published. It is sophisticated, but still accessible to the ordinary citizen. Without high-pitched rhetoric or appeals to religion, the author offers a careful and respectful case for why the prolife view of human life is correct. He responds to the strongest prochoice arguments found in law, science, philosophy, politics, and the media. He explains and critiques Roe v. Wade, and he explains why virtually all the popular prochoice arguments fail. There is simply nothing like this book.
Citations And Professional Reviews Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice by Francis J. Beckwith has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Christianity Today - 02/01/2008 page 81
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Studio: Cambridge University Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.2" Width: 6.36" Height: 0.73" Weight: 0.98 lbs.
Release Date Jan 21, 2011
Publisher Cambridge University Press
ISBN 0521691354 ISBN13 9780521691352
Availability 0 units.
More About Francis J. Beckwith
Francis J. Beckwith (PhD, Fordham University; MJS, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis) is professor of philosophy and church-state studies, and fellow and faculty associate in the Institute for the Studies of Religion, at Baylor University. In 2008-09, he will serve on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion Choice and To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview.
Francis J. Beckwith currently resides in Anaheim Hills, in the state of California. Francis J. Beckwith has an academic affiliation as follows - Baylor University, Texas.
Reviews - What do customers think about Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice?
Abortion and the art of sophistry May 21, 2008
We live in an age of paradox. On the one hand, scientific concepts are confidently and systematically understood, and our control of the physical world continues to expand through our employ of thorough, rigorous scientific method. On the other hand, the poverty of moral discourse is such that, in the words of J. Budziszewski, "it is...like a great smoke which fills our houses and dulls our minds and makes it difficult to complete any thoughts." Trying to discuss moral issues such as abortion in my experience does not lead to reasoned discussion; instead it is waved off as uninteresting or intractable, or the "right to choose" mantra is immediately invoked.
Francis Beckwith, however, notes that the climate has changed a bit in recent years. People are not so sure of moral relativism in the post-9/11 West. As stem cell research and the spectre of cloning bring to light alarming technological possibilities, we are forced to confront issues of what it means to be human. The thrust of Beckwith's argument, then, is to at the same time clarify the abortion debate and also advance the prolife position, by blowing away the smoke of confusion and appealing to our basic moral intuitions.
On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade was issued, and with its companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, it effectively legalized abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy. However, the reasoning used by Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored Roe, was flawed. To build his case, he had to overcome two legal impediments. The first was regarding the purpose of the anti-abortion laws that many states had enacted beginning in the nineteenth century. The reason, he said, these laws existed was not to protect prenatal life but rather to protect women from dangerous medical procedures. Since abortion was now a relatively safe procedure, there was no longer a need to prohibit it. Going back into common law prior to the nineteenth century Blackmun claimed that abortion was "a fundamental liberty, found in our nation's traditions and history." Therefore, given the right to privacy which the Supreme Court manufactured in the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision (but which Blackmun said was older than the Bill of Rights), abortion was declared a constitutional right. Beckwith points out that "since 1973 the overwhelming consensus of scholarship has shown that the court's history...is almost entirely mistaken." It is clear that the primary purpose of the state laws was in fact to protect the unborn from harm.
The second flaw in the court's reasoning in Roe involves the Fourteenth Amendment which protects U.S. citizens from having their rights violated by the government, and whether the unborn are persons protected by it. Blackmun argued that since the court cannot resolve the difficult question about when life begins, the state ought to remain neutral and not prefer one theory of life over another, and therefore not rule against abortion. But in practice he really is taking a position: by legalizing abortion the state is saying that the unborn is the kind of thing that should not be protected by the state and is thus outside of membership in the human community. His argument actually provides a compelling reason to prohibit abortion, since it admits that abortion may result in the death of a human entity who has a full right to life (but we just don't know for sure).
Under scrutiny, these pillars no longer seem to be able to support Roe, so one would think that when the opportunity arose it would be reversed. Such an opportunity was the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey which unfortunately upheld Roe in a narrow 5-4 decision. What is interesting is that since the original discredited reasoning could not be sustained, all the court could do was to base its decision on stare decisis, the principle that the court respect precedent. Chief Justice Rehnquist, in his dissent in Casey said that "Roe continues to exist, but only in the way a storefront on a western movie set exists: a mere facade to give the illusion of reality." The language of Casey indicated that the court had shifted the basis of abortion from the right to privacy to a new right that they found in the Fourteenth Amendment: the right to personal autonomy. It would seem that the right to abortion was derived not so much from sound legal reasoning as from the sheer force of judicial will.
It is claimed that the prochoice position should enjoy a privileged standing in our legal framework because the prolife position is religious. Beckwith argues that this is false: both positions presuppose some metaphysical point of view. If one is a materialist (believing that the physical world is all there is) one will reject the idea of a unifying human nature. A human being, then, is not a substance ontologically, but is something that comes into being only when sufficient parts or attributes are in place, whether these are brain waves or self-awareness or whatever criteria one chooses. In this view the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, much like an automobile or a table. Many prolifers, on the other hand, argue, as does Beckwith, that the human being is ontologically prior to its parts. From conception it has a human nature that defines and maintains its identity as long as it exists. Personhood is not achieved after a minimum number of attributes are evident, but exists immediately as an integral part of our human nature. The point is that both the prolife and the prochoice positions are in a sense religious; there is no metaphysical neutral ground.
Beckwith deals extensively with popular arguments for abortion choice, and the common denominator seems to be that they all beg the question as to the humanity of the fetus. That is to say, the arguments only work if one assumes from the outset that the unborn is not a human person, but this is the very point in dispute. For example, the argument that abortion on demand would reduce the number of unwanted children and child abuse begs the question, and this can be shown by extending the principle of the argument to post natal persons: would the killing of three-year-olds be acceptable if it would eliminate the abuse of five-year-olds? Obviously not. So the primary issue is whether or not the unborn are human persons or not. Furthermore, making wantedness a criteria for the relationship between a parent and a child is destructive for family life; it gives the parents far too much power if the value of the child is defined by the parent's feelings. Surely wantedness has bearing on value only with things, not people.
There are academic abortion choice advocates, such as Eileen McDonagh, who will grant that the unborn is a human person, but that we should be able to kill it anyway because of what it does to a woman's body. The fetus is regarded as an intruder who actually is causing the pregnancy, doing violence to the woman's body without her consent, comparable to the actions of a rapist. The woman may have consented to sex, but she did not at the same time consent to pregnancy, so she should have the right to expell this unwelcome intruder from her person. But this seems to be grossly counter-intuitive on a number of levels. The nature of the sexual organs, of sperm and ova, as being intrinsically directed toward procreation, suggests that the purpose of sex is pregnancy and for many people a radical separation of the two goes against the grain of their moral intuitions. Second, to assume moral volunteerism is to distort what we know instinctively about parental obligations. And if we applied this standard to the father there would be no moral reason to demand child support from him, for he could just say that he had consented to sex but not to fatherhood.
The arguments for abortion choice may make great slogans, but upon analysis they all fail, whether they are the crude coat-hanger arguments or ones from academic philosophers. Beckwith helps us to see more clearly just what the unborn are, where they belong, and what our duties are toward them. If we are truly an honest and compassionate society, we will not suppress this knowledge because it is inconvenient. We will practice generosity and virtue toward the weakest and most vulnerable in the human community, and we ourselves will be enriched in the process.
I don't know how anyone can remain pro-choice after reading this. Jan 30, 2008
This book is simply incredible. Beckwith answers all the typical abortion-choice arguments, and builds an undeniable case for the personhood of the unborn. In particular, Beckwith spends a chapter answering the human being vs. human person objection, and a chapter answering the common bodily autonomy argument, the only two abortion-choice arguments that actually don't beg the question. This is, of course, after Beckwith builds the case for the humanity of the unborn. The book is extremely well researched, and each chapter contains extensive footnotes. Along with Life Giving Love by Kimberly Hahn, this is now my favorite book. A MUST for all pro-lifers, as well as those that support abortion who wish to know how the other side argues.
People are People no Matter How Small Oct 25, 2007
Dr. Francis J. Beckwith's Defending Life is simply the best, most comprehensive, most logically sound examination of abortion & the meaning of personhood available in print today. Excellent summaries of the book are available elsewhere, so let me focus on some unique features.
First, Dr. Beckwith argues for a definition & moral value to humanity that provides a defense for innocent humans in a wide variety of circumstances, not just those who are tiny & preborn. The general philosophical arguments used here are helpful for evaluating human value among those in undeveloped, famine plagued regions of the world; among populations of hardened, committed career criminals; among those yet to be conceived several generations after our pollution-promoting public policies; & those who are physically and/or mentally disabled, etc.
Second, Dr. Beckwith treats abortion rights advocates with respect & honesty, not merely fairly representing their views & arguments, but even improving their arguments when he can & yet showing that even the best abortion rights arguments fatally undermine basic human rights based on the nature of humanity. A number of years ago, I role-played an abortion rights advocate in a public debate with Dr. Beckwith. He was concerned that his opponent be formidable & insightful, but he couldn't find an available true advocate he thought would do a credible enough job. I gave it my best shot (& Dr. Beckwith kindly said I was his toughest opponent to date), but Dr. Beckwith's arguments remained compelling & invincible. That generous respect & yet actual superiority is reflected in this book.
Third, Dr. Beckwith's sharp wit makes this book a serendipitous pleasure to read as well. Without demeaning his opponents or trivializing the issues, he is able to broach illustrations packed with humor & allude to cultural comedy to make telling points. As Dr. Beckwith's students will attest, he is nothing like the typical boring philosophy professor.
Fourth, this book provides such a wide spectrum of issues, arguments, & approaches that if you only have one book on the subject in your library, you should have this one -- even (or especially) if you are an abortion rights advocate.
Regardless of your familiarity with the subject or other volumes you might possess, you can't afford to miss getting & studying your own copy of Defending Life.
The case against abortion Sep 27, 2007
This is certainly the newest pro-life work to appear, and arguably among the best. It not only lays out the legal, rational, moral and philosophical case against abortion choice, but it more broadly makes the case for human equality and the sanctity of life.
Beckwith is an American professor of law and philosophy who has written extensively on these issues previously. This volume brings together years of thinking and debating on this contentious issue. It is an invaluable resource for all those wishing to stand up for human life at all stages of development, and to counter the arguments of the pro-choice brigade.
The first third of the book paints with broad brush strokes, examining moral reasoning, legal considerations, and political dimensions of the abortion debate.
The second third of the book looks more closely at the abortion debate per se, looking at the science, the morality and the arguments involved in the debate about abortion.
The final third of the book extends these considerations to recent developments in bioethics, including cloning and stem cell research.
The second and longest section of this book does many things, including carefully dismantling the various arguments put forward by the pro-abortion camp. All the leading pro-abortion thinkers, such as Thompson, Boonin, Stretton, and Dworkin are taken on, with their positions carefully assessed and interacted with.
On the broader issue of human equality, Beckwith argues for the substance view which states that a human being "is intrinsically valuable because of the sort of thing it is and the human being remains that sort of thing as long as it exists". That is, an individual "maintains absolute identity through time while it grows, develops, and undergoes numerous changes".
Various functions and capacities, whether fully realised or utilised do not constitute a person. Thus a human being is never a potential person, but is always a person at different stages of development, whether potential properties and capacities are actualised or not.
This view stand in stark contrast to the utilitarian and functionalist views held by most pro-abortionists. They argue that personhood is not inherent or intrinsic, but based on certain capacities and functions, be it consciousness, sentience, self-awareness, the ability to reason, and so on.
As to the specifics of the abortion debate, Beckwith responds to the numerous objections raised by pro-abortionists over the years. For example, consider the argument often heard, involving the hard cases of rape and incest. These are certainly tragic events, but in no way can they be used to justify an abortion.
First, such cases are extremely rare, making up just a tiny fraction of all abortions. Second, to argue for the legalisation of abortion because of these extreme cases would be similar to arguing that we eliminate traffic laws because in some rare cases they need to be violated, as in rushing a loved one to hospital.
Third, it simply begs the question by assuming the unborn child is not fully human. Fifth, to justify abortion in these circumstances is to argue that it is acceptable to forfeit a life for the alleged benefit of another. But a basic ethical intuition argues that we may not kill one person to possibly save another. John may desperately need a vital organ of Mary to stay alive, but he has no right to demand it, especially if it entails killing her in the process.
The more recent, and difficult, cases of embryo research, human cloning and stem cell therapies are also examined, looking at the various justifications given for them, and their pro-life responses. Similar issues arise here concerning the nature of personhood and the inviolability of life.
Beckwith closes by laying out his case as it has been argued throughout: the unborn are full members of the human community; it is wrong to kill members of that community; abortion kills the unborn entity; therefore abortion is morally wrong.
The three hundred pages of tightly-knit argumentation and logical-constructed reasoning take on nearly all the major justifications for abortion. All are found wanting - morally, legally, and philosophically. Beckwith is to be praised for assembling in one volume some of the best pro-life argumentation around.
Outstanding Contribution to Abortion Debate Sep 21, 2007
Beckwith's primary purpose is to provide a thorough defense of the pro-life position and its grounding in the "substance view" of human persons--a view he claims best explains human equality. He writes: "This book is, in a sense, then, not really a book about abortion, but rather, a book about human equality." Frank contends that the larger metaphysical question--who are we?--should be answered by enlarging our definition of the human family to include the unborn. His secondary purpose is to examine the relationship between abortion and law, politics, and public discourse.
The pro-life argument Frank defends can be outlined as follows:
1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community. 2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community. 3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community. 4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with moral reasoning, the law, and politics. Part 2 is the core of Frank's case for the pro-life view, which includes both the scientific and philosophic considerations. Part 3 takes on cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.
The thrust of the text is philosophical and jurisprudential rather than religious. In each case, the arguments presented pass the test of public reason. That's not because he thinks theology doesn't count as real knowledge (indeed, he argues elsewhere it does). Rather, he's cutting-off secular critics who unjustly dismiss pro-life arguments with the wand of "faith"--which they define as non-rational and subjective.
Frank sums up the current controversy this way: "At the end of the day, the abortion debate is about who and what we are and whether we can know it."