Abortion is the greatest injustice currently perpetuated around the world. Every day, approximately 125,000 babies are killed across the globe, and this computes to about 40-50 million children in one year. This staggering statistic ought to move us to repentance, and work for the abolition of abortion. Advocates for abortion use a variety of arguments to demonstrate their position, and in this article, I hope to dismantle one commonly used in the abortion debate and provide a counter-argument often used by pro-life advocates.
You have likely heard of the unborn referred to as just “a piece of tissue”. In the abortion debate, one popular tactic is to dehumanize the unborn. As soon as you remove the attributes of personhood, then abortion cannot be considered murder. It simply becomes another health decision, like removing a tumor or an appendectomy. One way to illustrate the reality that abortion is equal to murder, and not just removing some tissue, is to apply the idea of human development. An important question to ask therefore would be: What is the difference between a baby in the womb, and a newborn? Or what is the difference between the unborn and children? Nearly everyone would agree that killing a child is a horrendous evil and a grievous sin. You can argue from something they will agree with, logically connect it to something they disagree with, then demonstrate how their disagreement is illogical as the reasoning applies to both. In the pro-life arena, the acronym SLED helps to frame this argument tactic.
Each letter in this acronym references a characteristic – Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency. These four attributes help to exemplify common differences between the unborn, on one hand, and children (or adults for that matter), on the other hand. As Professor Stephen Schwarz observes, “there is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today,” rather every difference is non-essential. The argument proceeds in this way.
SIZE: Starting with the “S”, children and adults have different sizes, but this by no means indicates that children are less valuable as human beings than adults. Similarly, children are not more valuable than the unborn just because they are larger. The size of an individual carries no weight on their moral value.
LEVEL OF DEVELOPMENT: Similarly, human beings develop and mature over time. A full-grown adult has normally passed through all the stages of development, through young adulthood, the teenage years, puberty, childhood, and infancy. Yet everyone would agree that a teenager does not have a greater individual moral value than a child, or that a child has a greater moral value than an infant due to their level of development. Just because a newborn or child is further on in development than the unborn does not negate innate human value. Although development is certainly important, it does not affect one’s moral value. No matter the stage of development, every human being has been made in the image of God and taking their life is equivalent to murder. The unborn, still in the womb, are simply at another stage of human development.
ENVIRONMENT: The next non-essential difference is the environment that people are in. It is easy to see that the environment does not affect any person’s moral value. Environments such as the home, school, or work have no impact on the value of a human being, so why would the womb be any different as an environment. External situations do not alter the moral value of human life.
DEGREE OF DEPENDENCY: The final difference is the degree of dependency that the unborn have in comparison to a child. Yet once again, dependency does not affect an individual’s moral value. A newborn baby is totally dependent on the parents, yet we esteem a newborn baby as highly precious and valuable. Children live with a greater degree of dependency than a teenager, but this does not indicate that they are somehow less valuable as human beings. Just because the preborn are totally dependent on the mother does not decrease their innate human value. These four non-essential differences – size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency – do not affect the moral value of any human being.
The SLED argument is a powerful tool as it demonstrates the illogical position held by many who advocate for abortion. If one is to argue that it is okay to terminate a life through abortion, but not okay to murder a two-year child, then there is some error in their logical reasoning. The SLED argument helps to illuminate the truth that there is no essential difference between children in and out of the womb.