Abortion arguments

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This is a detailed breakdown of the arguments against abortion, generally coming from the Christian Fundamentalist (Christian Right) as well as a detailed counterargument for each point. Essay:Rationalwiki's abortion article offers a rebuttal.

Contents

[edit] Argument Side-by-Side

Arguments for the banning of abortion

Arguments for the legality of abortion

[edit]
Abortion = murder?

An abortion results in the death of an embryo or a fetus.[1][2] The terms embryo and fetus do not refer to nonhumans, but to humans at particular stages of development.[3] There is no rational basis for distinguishing the fetus from a newborn infant; each is totally dependent and potentially a member of society, and each possesses a degree of humanity. It is not "scientifically incorrect" to call the embryo an unborn child[4], as virtually every human embryologist, every major textbook of human embryology and almost all medical textbooks and scientific reference works consistently agree that fertilization marks the beginning of the life of the new individual human being.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15]

Only through mind-numbing stupidity could someone suggest that when human sperm and human eggs unite, life cycle may start but the start of "life" is something else. A life cycle describes the series of stages that an individual organism passes through until the time it produces offspring of its own. This series of stages is referred to as a life cycle because offspring pass through the same series before they produce their own offspring. As it's said in Encyclopædia Britannica: "Although organisms are often thought of only as adults, and reproduction is considered to be the formation of a new adult resembling the adult of the previous generation, a living organism, in reality, is an organism for its entire life cycle, from fertilized egg to adult, not for just one short part of that cycle."[16]

Of course, when given the evidence that human life begins at conception, the proponents of abortion try to draw a distinction between human being and human person. But the right to life is based on a being's natural or inherent capacities. Drawing a distinction between human being and human person is saying that a living being can undergo a radical, essential change in its nature during its lifetime. But if the change was biologically inevitable from conception, then this change is not a change in essential nature, it must have been in its nature from the beginning to do so. If it is in its nature to do so, then despite any changes in such characteristics as independence, place of residence or physical development, what the being is in later life is what the being is from the beginning of its life.

Think about yourself: You didn't really come from an embryo, you once were an embryo, likewise you didn't come from an adolescent, you once were an adolescent. And if your mother had had an abortion, she would have killed you. This "you" in question would have been an existing person with a valid claim to life.

Besides that, even if there was uncertainty as to whether the fetus has a right to life, then having an abortion is equivalent to consciously taking the risk of killing another person.

In a very real sense, "life" does not begin at conception since both egg and sperm are "alive". However, the potential for a new and distinct human being begins at conception. A pregnancy is defined as the implantation of a fertilized egg into the womb.[17][18] This distinction is important since modern scientific research suggests that well over 50% and more likely 75-90% of all fertilized eggs are discarded before they implant. An abortion by definition ends a pregnancy. At least 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and mostly within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.[19] Following the pro-life logic, God allows anywhere from 25-75% of children to die before they are ever born. There has been a noticeable lack of campaigning directed towards stemming this appalling tide of infant death.

Whilst the start of the life cycle might possibly be best put at the point of conception the start of "life" is a far more complex issue. For example, given that the end of life is near universally measured as the cessation of meaningful brain activity, it is scientifically and logically valid to define the start of "life" as the start of meaningful brain activity. This viewpoint, which places the start of "life" at around twenty four to twenty seven weeks after conception is as valid, in scientific and logical terms as any other.

However, for legal sakes, a line has to be drawn. Knowing full well the difficulties of the decision and the strongly felt feelings around it, in most countries that allow abortion, scholars and judges have come to work with viability as a common and discernible line, noting that before 20 weeks, a fetus' chances of survival outside the womb are nil. However well formed its little fingers, it can not be considered an independent entity in any meaningful sense. Realistic viability is attained at around 25 – 26 weeks[20] and few countries permit abortion after 24 weeks, except in cases of clear risk to the life of the mother.

Illegal abortion works as well as prohibition tends to: it doesn't.[21] The highest abortion rates exist in countries in which abortion is illegal, such as the countries of Latin America and Africa. It does not help women's mortality rates though since most of the procedures end up being clandestine and unsafe.

[edit]
Abortion damages women's health

Anti-abortion activists claim that abortion has serious health and psychological consequences for the woman. National Right to Life (whoever they are) emphasizes the risk of complications without presenting statistics on the frequency, though they admit that the vast majority are temporary and treatable. They claim that abortion increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy and doubles the risk of future sterility, and they claim that these risks increase with multiple abortions.[22] Andy Schlafly, who has degrees in engineering and law and teaches kids in a church basement, uses this expertise to claim on his blog Conservapedia that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.

National Right to Life claims "a growing body of scientific evidence that having an abortion can cause psychological harm to some women." They admit to a lack of information on the prevalence of serious psychological consequences, saying only that, "a Los Angeles Times survey in 1989 found that 56% of women who had abortions felt guilty about it, and 26% 'mostly regretted the abortion.'"[23]

There simply is no breast cancer link; see this article by a real doctor (!). When used correctly under a doctor's supervision, only 7 deaths have been reported to the CDC since medical abortions were legalized.[24] According to Planned Parenthood, the risk of death in a medication abortion is 1 in 100,000 and that from an early vacuum aspiration abortion is roughly 11 times safer than carrying a child to term, the risk of which is 1 in 10,000.[25] They flatly dismiss any link to future childbearing difficulties.

On psychological issues, Planned Parenthood notes the lack of scientific proof for assertions of a widespread "post-abortion syndrome." They claim that the occurrence of long-term emotional problems is similar to that associated with childbirth.[26]

Pregnancy is a life changing event. Women will necessarily have serious medical risks and will endure serious pain and suffering carrying a child to term and giving birth. Yet no one proposes laws to stop pregnancy for "women's health" concerns. Women who are pregnant will necessarily face emotional and physical changes regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy. Women who give a child up for adoption may one day think it was the best decision, and may on a different day wish they had raised the baby. Women who have children may look at the life they live and have days they regret the whole thing. No one is cautioning them not to have children much less make it a law. Women who are pregnant and poor, risk their own life and health as well as the baby's life and health - but the cries for help go largely unheard by the society at large. The only time "pro life" camp offers "health to the woman" as a national issue to be addressed is when abortion is the topic.

[edit]
"Culture of Life"

Most pro-life arguments rest on the idea that a fetus is a full human being from conception, and that a fetus shares the same rights as any other human being. This argument is often linked to other "respect-for-life" issues such as euthanasia and the death penalty in advocating a "Culture of Life" to replace what advocates see as a "Culture of Death." These ideas were articulated in this form by Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae.[27] The Roman Catholic Church has declared the Church's near total opposition to the death penalty.[28]

The unthinking preference for quantity of life ignores any consideration of quality of life. Furthermore, many pro-life activists and politicians who use this language show a particular disagreement about the "sanctity of human life" when the life in question belongs to a felon or a foreigner. Of course, this simply makes them hypocrites but doesn't prove that their point is wrong.

As for what the Pope says, the Church has a long and distinguished history of taking a *hard* line (oftentimes, a hard, throbbing line) on the welfare of young altar boys, so the depth of its concern for the lives of children is suspect, at best. Also, they worship a Jewish zombie, so their fundamental sanity is questionable. Moreover, to argue that something that has the potential to be human should be given the same right to life as a human is bad logic. The logic follows that something that has potential to be something should be given the rights of the thing it would become. For example: "I, as a young adult, have the potential to be a religious leader. Somehow I doubt that I'll receive tax exempt status."

[edit]
Comparative Rights

More than one person's rights are involved in a pregnancy. The “right to control one’s body” argument has no validity if the unborn is a human being, because in this case the "right to control my life" becomes the right to hurt and oppress others for my own advantage. The embryo also has the right to control of his or her body. The embryo has a right not to be killed.

In an unwanted pregnancy, someone's rights are going to be trampled. But the severity of that violation of rights must be taken into account. Which is a greater violation of rights - forced pregnancy and childbirth, or violent death? Privacy is never an absolute right, but is always governed by other rights. The right to live is superior to right to privacy. Birth has definitely life changing effects on a woman's life, but the one-time choice of abortion robs someone else of a lifetime of choices and prevents him or her from ever exercising his rights. Therefore, the embryo's rights are violated by abortion to a much greater extent than the woman's rights are violated by pregnancy.

Pregnant woman usually continues with her social life and career, instead of becoming some kind of unanimous and passive life-support system for someone else. And it is reasonable for society to expect an adult to live temporarily with an inconvenience if the only alternative is killing a child. There is no equality, if one person's convenience takes precedence over another's life, provided only that the first person has more power.

Advocates of pro-choice generally believe that a human being's body is inviolable, and the state should not regulate it. Specifically, women should never be forced to be "incubators" for a fetus. Furthermore, adoption is not a viable alternative to abortion because it does not address the problem of unwanted pregnancy; only the problem of unwanted parenthood. Abortion addresses both. And while adoption can spare a woman the burden of child-rearing, it cannot insulate her from the psychological distress, which can be severe, of giving up a child her instincts tell her to keep.

Furthermore, comparing the rights of the embryo/foetus against those to the mother depends heavily on whether the embryo/foetus can be considered a person capable of having rights. For all the 'life begins at conception' arguments defining the start of personhood is far more complex and many authorities - especially non religious ones - place it beyond the limit for normal legal abortions at around 25 weeks. Ancient Judaism and most non-orthodox Judaism places the "start of a baby's rights" at 40 days (the quickening), and places the "human individual" as the moment the child takes its first breath. Ancient Roman and Greek laws allowed that the fetus had no rights until an outsider could feel it move (2-4 months). Ancient Christians banned attempts to "avert the pregnancy" after god had made the pregnancy known to the town, arguing that prior to that it was in the hands of god and the woman's husband (ok, so it wasn't totally liberal). Even as far as the 1500's when the tides began to turn, abortion was still considered a misgiving, a misdemeanor, but not murder. It has only been since the late 1800's, and the early 20th century (coincidentally, exactly the era women were beginning to demand more and more equality), that the aggressive over-reach of the law commenced. Additionally, even if the fetus was considered a person, women would still be able to terminate their pregnancies, for there is no human right that allows a human to legally obtain the bodily resources of an unwilling human for the purpose of survival.

Dismissing pregnancy as a "temporary inconvenience" which will hardly affect a woman's social life and career fails to understand the massive, life changing effects that pregnancy and parenthood have on a woman's life. Pregnancy is a serious medical condition that can cause severe mental and physical harm, especially when it's unwanted. Something that can maim or even kill someone should never be described as an "inconvenience". This argument also fails to address the very reality of day to day life for women, and denies them the right to put themselves in the best position for their personal success. A women on Broadway, a NASA astronaut, any Military Academy cadet, a politician running for office, a mother with 2 jobs and 2 kids who is interviewing for a new job with bennies, a teacher in a rural town, a 16 year old facing a scholarship to college, would all reasonably stand to lose major events in their life for the sake of a child they did not want.

Although it takes two to make a child, it's always the woman who's left holding the baby. If this can be prevented before the embyo/foetus becomes a person then this could be said to be a positive outcome.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Wikipedia: Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo, resulting in or caused by its death.
  2. Merriam Webster dictionary: Abortion - the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus
  3. The Gale Encyclopedia of Science 1996, v 3, p 1327: ”For the first eight weeks following egg fertilization, the developing human being is called an embryo.”
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica: "Embryo" - /.../ In humans the term is applied to the unborn child until the end of the seventh week following conception; from the eighth week the unborn child is called a fetus.
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica 1998, v 26, p 664: ”A new individual is created when the elements of a potent sperm merge with those of a fertile ovum, or egg.” (Encyclopædia Britannica:pregnancy)
  6. Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia 2002, v 1, p 1290: ”Embryo. The developing individual between the time of the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism. [...] At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun.”
  7. Collier’s Encyclopedia 1987, v 9, p 121: ”The new individual is established at the time of fertilization, and embryonic development simply prepares this individual for the vicissitudes of adult life, and the development of future embryos.”
  8. Keith L. Moore (a professor emeritus in the division of anatomy (department of surgery), former Chair of anatomy from 1974 to 1984 and associate dean for Basic Medical Sciences): ”This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being” (1988. Essentials of Human Embryology. p. 2. B.C. Decker Co., Toronto.)
  9. William J. Larsen: ”… gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.” (1993. Human Embryology. p. 1. Churchill-Livingston, New York.)
  10. When do human beings (normally) begin? "scientific" myths and scientific facts, Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
  11. Scott Gilbert, Devlopmental biology: "Traditional ways of classifying catalog animals according to their adult structure. But, as J. T. Bonner (1965) pointed out, this is a very artificial method, because what we consider an individual is usually just a brief slice of its life cycle. When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death. /... / The life of a new individual is initiated by the fusion of genetic material from the two gametes—the sperm and the egg. This fusion, called fertilization, stimulates the egg to begin development."
  12. Psychology and Life (the standard college text book), Dr. Floyd L. Ruch: “At the time of conception, two living germ cells—the sperm from the father and the egg, or ovum, from the mother—unite to produce a new individual.”
  13. Dr. Herbert Ratner “It is now of unquestionable certainty that a human being comes into existence precisely at the moment when the sperm combines with the egg.” (Quoted in Wikipedia)
  14. Encyclopædia Britannica 1998, v 26, p 611: “Although organisms are often thought of only as adults, and reproduction is considered to be the formation of a new adult resembling the adult of the previous generation, a living organism, in reality, is an organism for its entire life cycle, from fertilized egg to adult, not for just one short part of that cycle.”
  15. Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia 2002, v 1, p 1291: ”The period of pregnancy begins with the union of the sperm and egg. At the moment of fertilization of the egg (conception), a new life begins.” Collier’s Encyclopedia 1987, v 9, p 121: ”The new individual is established at the time of fertilization, and embryonic development simply prepares this individual for the vicissitudes of adult life, and the development of future embryos.”
  16. Encyclopædia Britannica: Life-cycle reproduction
  17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pregnancy
  18. http://www.acog.org/About_ACOG/News_Room/News_Releases/2012/Personhood_Measures
  19. Miscarriage - NHS Choices
  20. Premature babies - BBC News/Health
  21. [1]
  22. http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/ASMF/asmf13.html
  23. http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/ASMF/asmf14.html
  24. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1785176
  25. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/birth-control-pregnancy/abortion/risks-and-side-effects.htm
  26. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/birth-control-pregnancy/abortion/risks-and-side-effects.htm
  27. http://www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0141/_INDEX.HTM
  28. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/popestate.html
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