Dr. Valerie Tarico thinks there is a lot we can learn from animals, especially when it comes to reproduction. In her article, “Orca Whales, Caribou, Abortion, and You,” she shows how common miscarriages are in the animal kingdom. These can occur when resources are scarce and mommy orca couldn’t support her calf if it was born alive, or when the caribou baby is sick. Humans, of course, also suffer miscarriages when the pregnancy is unhealthy. But Doctor Tarico goes onto to make a very interesting connection between abortion, human intentionality, and lack of resources.
This article will outline each of her main arguments and respond to them in turn. It will argue that miscarriages in the animal and human world cannot be used to justify abortion.
Point Number 1: Abortion is a survival mechanism like miscarriage.
Tarico explains that the reason caribou and orcas are having so many miscarriages is that their food is being taken away from them. For Caribou, it’s a lack of the vegetation they like to eat. For whales, it’s a lack of salmon. She goes on to explain,
“Women also have these natural mechanisms that cause them to spontaneously abort when things go awry. But what most mammals accomplish through instinct or automatic biological processes, we humans may accomplish via conscious decision: pick a mate, figure out how to earn a living, time a pregnancy—or end a pregnancy when conditions are wrong.”
Her point is that unlike caribou and whales, we are aware of when circumstances are right to be a parent or not. We know how much it costs to raise a child. We know whether we have the resources. And unlike whales and caribou, we don’t have to wait for the pregnancy to end itself. We are not stuck if the pregnancy is healthy but unwanted. We can choose a different way of ending the pregnancy: abortion.
Response Number 1: Highly Insensitive
I cannot help but feel that Valerie is showing a grotesque insensitivity to women who have suffered miscarriages. No woman whom I have talked to has seen it as a positive thing to lose their child. To compare a tragedy like the death of a child to a parent who willingly chooses to kill their child is hideous.
Response Number 2: Might Equals Right
Valerie isn’t really providing an argument for why abortion should be allowed here. She’s simply stating the fact that we have the means of ending a pregnancy if we want. But how does our having the ability to do something automatically make it right? We have the ability to lie, cheat and steal, too. Should we be allowed to do those actions? She’s actually begging the question here, assuming the very thing that she is trying to prove: abortion is good.
Response Number 3: Illness vs. Killing
Another question Valerie raises is: how does the fact that someone dies of natural causes get us to the conclusion that directly and intentionally killing a human being is okay? This is the difference between someone dying of a heart attack or someone shooting them in the heart. So far, there does not seem to be much to learn from her caribou and whale example.
Point Number 2: Adverse Conditions
Valerie claims she’s not only thinking about the parents here but also considering the well-being of the child herself. We are preventing the child from being brought up in circumstances which might lead him or her to a life of crime.
“A Swedish study in the 1960s found that children born to mothers who sought and were denied abortions were more likely to grow up under adverse conditions and to engage in criminal behavior. In 2001, American economists Steven Levitt and John Donohue analyzed post-Roe data and reported that legalized abortion in the U.S. measurably reduced the crime rate as the next generation came of age. Levitt and Donohue’s findings were fiercely disputed and reanalyzed, and errors were caught—but the effect remained significant, which coincides with similar studies conducted in Canada and Australia.”
Second, abortion is helping the family because it can prevent them from ending up in an economic crisis:
“More recently, researchers at the University of California (UCSF, Bixby Center) found that “turnaways,” meaning women denied abortions, were more likely to be in poverty two years later, when compared to their peers who got the abortion services they sought. In other words, they had reason for wanting to wait or limit their family size.”
It does paint pro-lifers in a fairly villainous light. By denying these women the chance to limit their family size, we are just adding to their poverty. However, they lose their force once we “trot out the toddler.”
Response: 1: It Would justify Killing a Two Year Old?
Catholic pro-life apologist, Trent Horn, suggests that when faced with these scenarios, “take the reason being given to justify abortion and use it to justify killing a two-year-old.” So in the first scenario, would we be justified in killing a two year old to protect them from adverse conditions which could push them towards a life of crime? I’m guessing Valerie would say no. But then we need to ask why the argument works for the unborn and not the two year old.
Or we could ask, would a mother be justified in killing her two year old in order to get her family out of poverty? Again, Valerie would likely say no. So then the question becomes, why is it acceptable to kill an unborn child for the same reasons?
A Possible Rebuttal from Valerie:
For Valerie, the simple fact of the matter is that the unborn do not fit into her category of beings worth moral consideration. It is the only premise which can justify her previous argument. In another article she wrote, she implies this:
“I’m pro-abortion because I think morality is about the well-being of sentient beings. I believe that morality is about the lived experience of sentient beings—beings who can feel pleasure and pain, preference and intention and who at their most complex can live in relation to other beings, love and be loved, and value their own existence.”
Since the unborn at the early stages of development don’t have a brain, they are not yet sentient and therefore have none of the interests she mentions. From this she draws the conclusion that their rights cannot supersede that of the mothers.
Response Number 2: Trot out a Comatose Patient.
When I debated Valerie last year, our host asked a very perceptive question. He asked her whether a comatose patient has rights since that person would not be conscious at that point. Valerie responded, “The pivotal word there is somebody. And that is very different from a potential person that doesn’t yet exist.” She went on to explain how the blueprint for a potential person might exist in the fertilized egg but it requires a lot of support to realize that potential. Meanwhile, for the coma patient: “a person already exists in relation to other people with a history of personhood.”
But this response is moving the goal post. Her original point seemed to be that it is someone being presently conscious that makes them a person with rights and values. The coma patient doesn’t have it presently, even if he or she did have it in the past. So they should not be considered persons on her criteria. Thus she implicitly shows that consciousness is not a necessary or sufficient grounding of ethics. So, again, the caribou/orca comparison isn’t getting us where we want to go. In fact, at this point it doesn’t even factor in anymore.
Argument Number Three: Only you can Prevent Unwanted Pregnancies
Valerie ends with a call for us to be proactive if we want to see abortions stop. We can do that in two ways. First, we can make sure people have adequate access to contraceptives. Second, we can make sure everyone’s needs are taken care of.
Response: Hearty Agreement.
I have no problem with making sure people have access to contraceptives. However, contraceptives are not one hundred percent effective. And if that condom breaks and a baby is conceived, if a woman still views the unborn in the way Valerie does, abortion will seem like a viable option. Our goal is to help mothers see killing their unborn child as unthinkable as killing a two year old. That is also the sort of reflective reasoning we can use that caribou and whales can’t.
I also believe that we should care for the mothers and their children. This is what the Epistle of James says that pure religion is in James 1:27. But it’s not a zero sum game where either we help the families, or we allow them to kill their children. We still wouldn’t allow families to kill their born children because others are not helping them. And it still doesn’t solve the problem of poverty and single parenthood which are the real issues we should be addressing.
In this article, I proved Valerie’s three main arguments for justifying abortion through the miscarriages we have seen happening in the animal world are not analogous to abortion. I have demonstrated that she has not given a solid justification for why it is okay to kill an unborn child in the scenarios she covers but not a born child. Additionally, I’ve shown that her call to action at the end still does not deal with the pro-life community.
So what can we learn from the caribou and orcas on this subject? Not that it’s moral. Not that the unborn are not human beings worthy of life. Rather, that abortions are bad, a sign that things are not the way they should be, and that we should be working to change those conditions, not encouraging more tragic events.