Sean McDowell | September 21, 2015

What are the Core Issues in the Abortion Debate? Review of Aborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett

The abortion debate is alive and well. With the release of multiple videos showing Planned Parenthood harvesting baby organs, the abortion issue has been thrust into the forefront of cultural debate once again. Dave Sterrett enters into the fray with the release of his new book Aborting Aristotle.

While there are a number of great pro-life books, such as Defending Life (Beckwith), The Case for Life (Klusendorf), and Pro-life Answers to Pro-choice Arguments (Alcorn), Aborting Aristotle is a unique book in a couple regards.

First, Sterrett aims to find common philosophical ground between the pro-life and pro-choice positions. He clearly makes the case for pro-life, but he aims to “show where the real disagreement lies in the abortion debate” (p. 5). In fact, in the final chapter Sterrett highlights some areas of ethics held by some abortion advocates hold that pro-lifers can affirm. The core issue, claims Sterrett, is over what it means to be human: “Today, it seems that metaphysical truths like essence and existence are rejected, while defenders of abortion have preferred a functional view of what it means to be human” (113).

Second, Aborting Aristotle focuses on the underlying philosophical issues that inevitably shape the debate. Some abortion advocates claim that metaphysics is a matter of religious speculation that is irrelevant to the issue of abortion. Sterrett rightly quotes Frank Beckwith, who observes that every position has metaphysical commitments: “All positions on abortion presuppose some metaphysical point of view, and for this reason, the abortion-choice position…is not entitled to a privileged philosophical standing in our legal framework” (27).

Underlying the abortion debate are unavoidable metaphysical issues related to the nature of reality, what it means to be human, and where moral values come from. Sterrett provides a sharp critique of naturalism and provides a defense of Aristotle’s concept of substance. These may seem like abstract issues, but as Sterrett demonstrates, they inevitably shape how someone views the value of the unborn.

My favorite part of the book is when Sterrett points out some of the contradictory arguments often propagated by abortion advocates. For instance, pro-choicers sometimes argue that women should be the final arbiters of the issue since men do not know personally or experientially the burden of unwanted pregnancy. Yet as Sterrett observes, if that were true, it would invalidate Roe v. Wade, since seven men on the Supreme Court decided it.

In another example, some abortion advocates (such as Peter Singer) have popularized the term “speciesism” as a derogatory term for humans who morally favor humankind over animals. Yet, as Sterrett notes, even those who reject human exceptionalism recognize unique human responsibility. Sterrett quotes Scott Klusendorf, who observes, “When a raging Michael Vick clubs his pit bull to death for losing a fight, we’re justifiably outraged at his inhumane and beastly behavior. But why are we outraged? Isn’t it because we demand better of him as a man?” (99).

Even though the book is relatively short (114 pages), there are many more insights like this throughout Aborting Aristotle. If you have some background in philosophy, then it will be a quick read. If not, it may take a little longer to wade through. But it is certainly readable for the philosophical novice.

Here is what I wrote in my endorsement for the book:

Aborting Aristotle is an important contribution to the contemporary debate over the life and value of the unborn. Dave provides a readable yet challenging resource about the underlying assumptions that guide the debate. For those with a zeal for the unborn, but who also want to thoughtfully articulate and defend their beliefs, this book is a must-read.”

If you are looking for a book that provides simple, quick responses to pro-choice challenges, then you may need to get a different book. But if you want to go deeper, and understand the issues that really frame the debate, Aborting Aristotle will be a helpful resource.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: