Essay:Arguments against abortion
I submit this "essay" to revise until it becomes palatable enough for pro-choice advocates to accept these sections on the pro-life page, which currently lacks any pro-life arguments at all. They keep deleting this instead of being more productive and editing the sections to include their objections. Such editing is a constructive process. Revisionism is a destructive one.
The right to life
The right to life argument posits that, by virtue of being a living “being”, a fetus inherently possesses the right to life. Due to the centrality of the right to life in the abortion debate, this section will cover the right to life in some detail, and defend it against common criticisms.
This view, however, raises several major objections. First, a fetus is not a human insofar as that it is not a rational, autonomous being. Moreover, fetuses lack sentience early in pregnancy. If we define a human being as rational and autonomous, a fetus is therefore not human. If we moreover maintain that only rational, autonomous beings can bear rights, a fetus cannot possibly bear rights.
If we observe the above argument, then infants, the mentally deficient, and the severely disabled neither possess nor ever could possess rights. We therefore bear no obligations toward any such class of “entities”. Such a conclusion, however, defies the common use of language and modern moral sensibilities, particularly as relate to the Disability Rights Movement.
The question naturally arises whether a being must possess rationality or autonomy to bear rights, the answer to which we may predicate on the above observations. By the universalizability criterion, if we object to denying rights and obligations to infants, the mentally deficient, and the severely disabled, on the basis that such people are neither rational nor autonomous, then such criteria are highly suspect.
To resolve this apparent conflict, we need only revise our criterion for moral considerability to include sentience as a sufficient, if not also necessary, condition for the attribution of rights. We therefore extend rights to formerly excluded persons, such as infants, the mentally deficient, and the severely disabled, and, for that matter, any sentient being, including many animals.
Nevertheless, even after expanding the concept of moral considerability, pro-life advocates still have no ground on which to dismiss the objection of fetal insentience. To this extent, pro-life advocates must broaden the criteria for moral considerability to include “potential” persons, or, more generally, potentially sentient beings.
Pro-choice advocates may object to the argument from potentiality on the grounds that what a thing is and what a thing can be are importantly and logically distinct.
Granting this objection, pro-life advocates may further distinguish between probable and improbable potentials. While a chimpanzee may become a college professor, the actual professorship of a chimp is laughably improbable. For a severely gifted child with an IQ of 160, however, professorship is drastically more probable.
Moreover, it would seem the potential of a child with an IQ of 160 has some relevance in considering his future. Such would also be the case for the less gifted and even the marginally retarded. Once more by the universalizability criterion, we should extend moral considerability to cases of potentiality, with greater weight assigned to more probable potentialities.
While such distinctions may abridge the argument from potentiality, they nevertheless fail to provide direct justification for extending rights to non-sentient beings.
Nevertheless, a plausible basis exists for questioning even the sentience criterion. Since humans tend to value rationality, autonomy, and sentience, out ethical theories tend to disfavor animals and “lesser beings”. Anthropocentric bias therefore limits our capacity to judge beings unlike us, and may lead us to assign unfair values to non-humans, which may be valuable independently of such assignation.
Such dissent culminates in biocentrism, the belief that life is intrinsically valuable. Trees, for example, are intrinsically valuable in that they possess interests of welfare as self-preserving, living entities. As ethicist Kenneth E. Goodpaster argues in “On Being Morally Considerable”, life is the most fundamental, non-arbitrary criterion for moral considerability, to say nothing of moral significance (1).
Applying biocentric arguments to abortion, it becomes clear that a fetus, at the very least, deserves moral consideration as a living being. The combination of this argument and the argument from probable potentiality only increases the significance of fetal moral considerability, from which the right to life argument derives considerable strength.
The equilibration of rights
Contrary to popular belief, pro-life advocates do not strictly argue that we must preserve the right to life of the fetus at all costs. At the same time, while pro-life advocates tend to emphasize the right to life of the fetus to the diminution of the mother’s right to life, pro-choice advocates tend to emphasize the rights of the mother to the near or total exclusion of the rights of the fetus.
Under a more just worldview, however, we would consider the mother’s claims and those of her fetus on the merits of those claims. Weighing these claims against each other constitutes that grand act of calibrating the scales of justice.
Loose guidelines may be prescribed to determine, given isolated variables or smaller clusters of variables, which rights should take precedence in which conditions. Such guidelines will all factor into the moral calculus of the decision of whether or not to abort.
The right to life is influenced by the probability that the mother and/or child will die, the expected quality of the mother’s and child’s life following natural pregnancy or abortion, the expected lifespan of the mother and child following natural pregnancy or abortion, and various combinations of these factors.
In general, the fetus’s right to life will outweigh the mother’s right to life; out of nearly four million live births in the US each year, only 650 women die of pregnancy-related complications (1, 2). Moreover, only 13% of mother’s in a 2005 survey choose “possible problems affecting the health of [my] fetus”, even when given the opportunity to check off as many reasons they sought abortion as possible, and write in reasons not listed (3), indicating that a comparatively low number of abortions are sought to protect the child’s welfare, and even fewer with demonstrated or expected disability.
1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_01.pdf#table01 2. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-relatedmortality.htm 3. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/3711005.pdf
The numerical argument
Given that roughly 40% of all pregnancies, both documented and undocumented, end in miscarriage, we may strongly and reasonably assume that roughly 40% of abortions occur in cases wherefore the fetus would die regardless (1). However, it follows that roughly 60% of abortions result in the death of children who would otherwise have been born alive. Consequently, abortion must be strictly justified in depriving such children of life (2).
The utilitarian argument
Following the mantra “the greatest good for the greatest number”, we may derive useful utilitarian arguments against abortion, depending on the value we select. In classical utilitarianism, that value is suffering. Though modern utilitarians may select alternate values, such as happiness, as the ultimate or intrinsic good, their moral considerations still obey the same hedonistic calculus, variables of which include intensity, duration, certainty, and propinquity (1).
By the right to life, “the greatest good for the greatest number” consists of two competing variables, a) the number of the living and b) the respective quality of their lives. Through the hedonistic calculus, we may optimize both.
Such remark, however, fails to directly provide utilitarian arguments for or against abortion, for which we resort to general observations. We count, among these observations, the simple fact that most beings cherish their life, so much so that they are willing to persevere through horrendous conditions to preserve it. We may also count the simple fact that life is a rewarding experience, and that for all its misery, there remains tremendous joy, the joy we actively strive to achieve. (As an aside, non-existence is a misery of its own, for it neither provides comfort, nor ever the relief of tribulation overcome.)
An objection arises in that, if suffering is the ultimate evil, then we should eliminate suffering entirely. And since the only option presently available to achieve this end appears the extermination of all life, including human life, such an objection defies our foremost moral sensibilities. Moreover, this objection tacitly assumes that neither nature could create nor could man ever synthesize beings which, though capable of suffering, cannot process such suffering, i.e., a being whose interests may be violated, but whose capacity for experiencing pain is nil.
From these considerations arises not only the conviction that we should respect the right to life of beings, but also ensure that humans thrive via the optimization of our competing variables. It stands to reason, that, in general, forsaking a child to nothingness, denying him life in all its wondrous complexity, is a grave evil for which, even as a profoundly anti-religious man, I believe we should repent (2).