A note about terms used in this discussion:
It took careful consideration to decide what terms to use in this discussion. People who are in favor of access to abortion would prefer that people who oppose abortion be called “anti-choice” or “anti-abortion,” while people who oppose abortion would prefer to see those who support abortion called “pro-abortion.” I made my decisions not based on the desires of any one group, and not even on my personal biases, but on the most logical names.
People who oppose abortion want to be called “pro-life,” and that’s a very good term. But “pro-life” indicates being in favor of all life, and therefore includes opposition to the death penalty and “assisted-suicide.” I understand that many people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to the above mentioned items, however, there is quite a large part of the pro-life movement that is in favor of the death penalty. Therefore, I felt, for the purpose of this discussion, the proper name for people who oppose abortion, and without regard to their stand on the death-penalty, euthanasia, or “assisted-suicide” is “anti-abortion.” I know that’s not the most popular term with anti-abortion people, because groups are defensive about using “anti” in their title. Negative connotations are a bad thing, I suppose.
But to have both sides equally unhappy, taking a look at the movement that is self-described as “pro-choice” I had a similar problem. People who support abortion access want to be called “pro-choice,” but that is really a very vague and non-descriptive name. To be truly “pro-choice” would mean believing people should have a choice in everything. Yet many of these people oppose legalization of drug use, so they oppose choice of whether or not a person takes drugs. Many oppose school vouchers, which is the only way to give poor people a choice between public and private schools for their children. Most are for affirmative action, which takes away the choice of an employer to hire whomever she pleases based on whatever criteria she sets. Therefore “pro-choice” doesn’t work for this discussion, for the main reason that it is too vague. People who support abortion are pro-abortion. It could be argued-perhaps successfully-that they are more properly “pro abortion-choice,” but this name sounds goofy, and for the most part pro abortion people are in favor of the practice of abortion being allowed, which sounds like pro-abortion to me. Of course, just as the anti-abortion people don’t like the “anti” in that title, the pro-abortion people don’t like the “abortion” part of that label. This makes one question whether the pro-abortion people don’t wan’t people to think of abortion when they hear of the group. That seems silly.
The doctors who perform abortions are called-in this discussion-either abortionists, or abortion doctors. “Abortionists” has negative connotations for many people, but it seems a perfectly viable (pardon any pun inferred) name for a doctor who performs abortions.
The thing that may be aborted will be called many things; such as “fetus,” “unborn baby,” “tissue,” “being,” “fertilized egg,” “blastocyst,” and probably even “feotus” a few times, just to keep the British happy. I believe these are all proper names to call the developing human.
Now, let’s stop discussing semantics and get to this important discussion.
Is abortion immoral?
This seems on the surface-to most people-to be a self-evident truth. But simply accepting something as true is often a mistake, as a glance at history books will show. And since the idea here is to look at things logically, starting out with an assumption would make a shaky foundation for the discussion.
Both sides of the abortion debate have their arguments. The anti-abortion movement points out that it is the destruction of a life, and this is a morally reprehensible crime. The pro-abortion movement argues that it is the right of the woman to do what she wants with her body, and that includes the right to end a pregnancy she doesn’t want to continue.
We will look at both of those arguments in due time. But I think what we need to do initially is step back from the heated arguments and look at facts and the opinions of knowledgable people throughout the ages. As anyone who pays attention to the abortion issue-from one side or the other-knows, there are philosophers who support both sides, as well as religious people who lean one way or the other. We need to look at what research has been done as well, both in the past and more recently, in our attempt at ascertaining the morality (or any lack thereof) of abortion.
Of course, we need to first establish what we speak of when we discuss abortion. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines abortion thus:
1 : the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus: as
a : spontaneous expulsion of a human fetus during the first 12 weeks of gestation — compare miscarriage
b : induced expulsion of a human fetus
For our discussion we are only concerned with b: induced expulsion of a human fetus. We are not discussing the spontaneous abortions that occur often in the first few months of pregnancy, but only those consciously brought about by a person’s actions.
Okay, the formalities are out of the way. Now we get down to the meat of the discussion.
The basic question that faces anyone with regards to the abortion issue is: is abortion a moral, justifiable action, or is it the denial of human rights to a person. That question breaks down pretty quickly into the question of whether or not the human, prior to birth, is a human being. For if the unborn are humans, then they are to be allowed those rights which are not conferred by the government but only protected by the government. If the unborn life is not a human being, then it makes sense that people should do with it as they wish.
As it says in the U.S. Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These, as stated in the quote, are “unalienable” rights. This means they cannot be taken away from a person. They are a right we have as a part of being human, not just as a part of being American, or Polish, or any other grouping.
Now, if the fetus is not a human, then the government has no more right to tell you what to do than they have to tell you what you can do with your fingernails or hair.
So the first thing we need to determine is whether the fetus is a human being.
There are may who say the question is not black and white, but is really shades of gray on a scale. They are incorrect in that thought with regards to the question of whether the unborn person is human or not. While there is room to argue whether the killing is justified, the the humanity-or lack thereof-is not something that can be brushed off as “shades of gray.”
The whole shades of gray argument is simply an excuse not to take a positive position on an issue. It also is a way of blurring the reality of a choice. This desire is understandable, because many people either have had an abortion or know someone who has had an abortion. To the Christian it should still not be difficult to take a stand on the issue; you can love the person while still holding the action to be sinful, a crime, or both. If you are opposed to theft (as most people are) it doesn’t seem that difficult to take a stand on it. Some would say “in some case theft is okay, such as if your family is starving.” This is the “shades of gray” argument again, which we will avoid by specifying theft for no great cause such as feeding the starving kids. Theft of a CD from a music store is wrong. Most people would agree with that statement, yet most people have-or know someone who has-stolen from a store. We are easily able to separate the judgement of the crime from the judgement of the person in this case. We must be the same with abortion. To think we should punish women who have had abortions would be the same as, after slavery was ended, thinking we should have thrown everyone who owned slaves into jail.
Okay, so if we agree to not use the silly “shaded of gray” argument we can move on to the next step.
When does humanity begin? That is the difficult but not unanswerable question. The question is not, “when does life begin,” because it is really irrelevant when life begins The discussion here is not all life, only human life. The sperm and egg are alive, everyone agrees there. So the question is, when does this life become human? The Catholic Church believes all potential human life is sacred, and this is the reason for opposition to artificial birth-control methods. Keeping this away from a religious discussion I will not argue the point on artificial birth-control from either side. Our discussion will be when does life become human, not potentially human.
What makes us individual human beings? Is it our ability to live without support from others? If that is the case we could easily kill old people who can no longer live without support, as well as children during the first few years of life who rely on a caregiver for their very existence. So it is not dependency or lack thereof that makes us individuals.
Is it intelligence? The ability to use rational thought? In that case there are many who could be aborted at any age in life. Many people seem incapable of rational thought. But those people aside, would it be acceptable to abort a fifteen year old who has the mental capacity of a three or four year old? Would it be acceptable to abort a construction worker who is struck in the head and has severe brain-damage? In these cases the person is also unable to survive without help from a caregiver.
I would think that in any of those cases, people who accept abortion as a valid choice would for the most part not accept the killing of the old or the mentally disabled. So if it isn’t thought or self-reliance that makes us individual humans, what is it?
Perhaps the ability to feel pain? That doesn’t work well, because scientist are unsure when an unborn person can feel pain. they know that connections between the cerebral cortex and the parts of the brain involved with feeling pain are formed between 23 and 30 weeks. and when any surgical procedures are done on the fetus by this time or later, painkillers should be used (Lee et al., 2005). Certainly people who are anesthetized can’t feel pain, so that would make it acceptable to abort an adult who was “put under.”
Individuality is what makes us a separate human life.
When we are sperm and egg, we are not individuals, I contend. If scientists study the sperm and egg, they can still have little knowledge of the individual who would result from the combination of any given sperm and egg. However, once conception has occurred, we have an individual. Once the DNA combine to create a new life, that life is unique, and that life is uniquely human.
This is a difficult time for life to begin, I know. It means that some often performed actions, such as using the “morning after” pill, are abortion, the taking of a human life. This is not a popular way to think, I’m sure. But this is not intended as an argument on what is popular, only on what is correct. While the abortion seems much more pleasant because an abortionist doesn’t have to dismember the infant and reassemble him or her on a tray to check for missed parts, that is like saying poisoning someone is not wrong, like stabbing them would be. The relative “pleasantness” or “unpleasantness” of the action has no bearing on whether or not it is the taking of human life.
If a human life doesn’t begin at conception, then the question is when does it begin? Does it begin at birth? Any choice in between seems illogical. Is it a human when the lungs have developed? When it is capable of feeling pain? That takes us back to the question of adults with lungs that won’t support them without assistance, or people who can feel no pain. Is abortion of them acceptable? No.
Some argue that human life begins at birth. It is an inane argument, but one that is easily met using simple logic. Even Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist who many people believe to be a monster, but who is beloved by the left, agrees with that statement.
If life begins at birth, what is the reason life begins then? Is it because the child can readily sense what is going on around her? That doesn’t work, for unborn humans in the womb can sense what is going on around them. A nearby noise will cause the fetus to blink when it is at 28 weeks gestation (Kisilevsky & Low, 1998; Saffran, Werker, & Werner, 2006).
Is it because the fetus is viable? We know that occurs earlier than birth, as people who were once premature babies around the world could testify.
No, there is no logical way to reason life beginning at birth and picking a time earlier seems an artifice devised for convenience. Let’s be real; it is very inconvenient for many people if life begins at conception. this means that anything that interferes with the life after conception is the taking of a human life.
This means a woman or man who follows logic cannot excuse the abortion with the justification of “it’s only a quarter of an inch long,” or “it’s only a dot the size of the period at the end of a sentence.” This means any drug which stops the fertilized egg from implanting and growing in the uterine lining is killing a human life, just as the doctor removing parts of the unborn baby from the mother’s womb is the taking of human life.
Being realistic, there is no way a government could stop all abortions. It is simple for a woman to induce an abortion at home, without ever going to a hospital, with a few drugs. But, if a person believes a human life begins a conception, it would at least make clear to the woman what she was doing, rather than soft-selling it. And of course, should the goal be to stop abortions. That brings us back to the question of the morality of it.
I know, I know. You’re thinking that, since I said it’s the taking of human life, it must be immoral. But I argue that it is not always immoral to take human life. There are just wars, where there is room for argument that it is moral to take life. Many people support the death-penalty, and feel it is a morally justified taking of a human life.
So, logic tells us that the unborn baby is a human life, and now the question is, can we take that life for any reason morally? Or are all abortions immoral?
When we come to questions of morality, there is always room for argument. People can say, “Your morality is not my morality.” And they have a very valid point.
If I approve of homosexuality, and you don’t, we have a moral difference. If I oppose homosexual marriage, and you support it, we have a moral difference. Some would argue that if I support freedom and equality for African-Americans, and you believe they should still be slaves, we have a moral difference. I would argue that, while the two former examples-of homosexuality and homosexual marriage-are arguably moral differences, the latter example is not one of moral difference, but legal difference.
Certainly there’s moral difference as well; anyone who believes skin color makes one less human follows a different version of God’s rules than other people. And what are morals other than man’s interpretation of God’s rules (Or Nature’s rules, if the word “God” has bad connotations for you).
If our morals aren’t based on a higher law, what are they based on? It is understandable that societies are created, and laws made, in an effort to bring peace to a community and safety to its members. But why do we believe it is wrong for a man to kill and eat other men? Other than the fact that it’s breaking a law, why do we know it is wrong? Our morals are based on a shared understanding of right and wrong.
But back to the slavery argument. Morally, people know slavery is wrong. They know people are all humans, and that it is morally wrong to keep another human in bondage. Our government, once again back to the founding documents, supported the idea that all men are created equal, and have certain unalienable rights.
So, by laws and by morals, all humans are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This would include African-Americans, and this would include the unborn, if you accept the argument that life begins at conception.
Here’s an interesting thing the Reverend Jesse Jackson said, when he was opposed to abortion. It is beautifully stated, well reasoned, and passionate:
“Those advocates of taking life prior to birth do not call it killing or murder; they call it abortion. They further never talk about aborting a baby because that would imply something human. Rather they talk about aborting the fetus. Fetus sounds less than human and therefore can be justified.”
Jesse Jackson, U.S. civil rights activist, now in favor of legal abortion, in National Right to Life News, (January, 1997)
I thought it important to let it be known that Mr. Jackson now supports legal abortion, because it is not my goal to misrepresent his current statements on it, just to show an interesting way of looking at abortion. While his comment on the three-fifths human part of the constitution is a misrepresentation of that document [see endnote 3] (it actually was put in there by people opposed to slavery-read the endnotes), his statement In general is interesting.
So, back once again to the question (we’re getting to the answer, I promise) that I asked several times already. Is abortion moral? Is it always moral; is it ever moral?
My answer to that last question is yes.
Yes, abortion is moral, in very limited circumstances. Now, you will most likely find that my idea of a “moral abortion” is much more restrictive than your idea. At least you will if you believe abortion should be legal in the case of rape, or incest.
I believe, following the logic I attempted to show here, that abortion can only be moral and justified when there is serious risk to the life of the mother. Even at that point, I think it is often worth the risk. Sometimes there is a family that needs the mother there to care for them, and they would greatly suffer if she were dead. At that point a family has to decide if it is a fair trade to let a person die in exchange for the life of the mother. Often it is not that difficult a choice, by logic. If it a choice between having both the mother and the infant die, or having just the infant die. The obvious moral choice is to let the mother live. At other times it is a more difficult choice, and it is always a troubling and saddening choice, for it is the taking of a human life.
In cases of rape and incest I use logic as follows. If a woman gave birth to a child, and after the child was born, learned that the child was the product of rape or incest, would it be moral to kill the child? If you answer “no” and you believe that an unborn child is a human being, then you can not argue that killing that human being is moral simply for the comfort of the mother.
So an amendment to answer is:
Is abortion moral?
Very rarely. And even in those rare circumstances when it is moral, it should be a heart-wrenching decision.
1. “Of the various ways to perform abortion after the midpoint of pregnancy, there is only one that never, ever results in live births. It is D&E (dilation and evacuation) and not only is it foolproof, but many researchers consider it safer, cheaper, and less unpleasant for the patient. However, it is particularly stressful to medical personnel. This is because D&E requires literally cutting the fetus from the womb, and then reassembling the parts, or at least keeping them all in view, to assure that the abortion is complete… ”
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Sept 1, 1976
2. “The pro-life groups were right about one thing, the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make much of a moral difference. We cannot coherently hold it is alright to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive. The solution, however, is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite, to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth.”
Peter Singer, Princeton ethicist, 1976
3. “Another area that concerns me greatly, namely because I know how it has been used with regard to race, is the psycholinguistics involved in this whole issue of abortion. If something can be dehumanized through the rhetoric used to describe it, then the major battle has been won. . . That is why the Constitution called us three-fifths human and then whites further dehumanized us by calling us niggers. It was part of the dehumanizing process. The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify that which they wanted to do. . . Those advocates of taking life prior to birth do not call it killing or murder; they call it abortion. They further never talk about aborting a baby because that would imply something human. Rather they talk about aborting the fetus. Fetus sounds less than human and therefore can be justified.”
Jesse Jackson, U.S. civil rights activist, now in favor of legal abortion, in National Right to Life News, (January, 1997)
Other references Used:
Lee, S.J., Ralston, H.J., Partridge, J.C., & Rosen, M. A. (2005). Fetal pain: A systematic multidisciplinary review of the evidence. Journal of the American Medical Association, 294, 947-954.
Kisilevsky, B.S., & Low, J.A. (1998) Human fetal behavior: 100 years of study. Developmental Review, 18, 1-29.
Saffren, J.R., Werker, J.F., & Werner, L.A. (2006). The infant’s auditory world: Hearing, speech, and the beginnings of language. In D. Kuhn, & R. Siegler (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 2. Cognition, perception, and language (6th ed., pp. 58-108). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.