From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Framing the arguments[edit]

The abortion argument is generally framed by three different issues: How the pregnancy happened (can also be understood as "Did the woman choose to have sex"), and how far along the pregnancy is, and the "health" of the mother.

Rape, Incest, or simple sin[edit]

In any argument discussing a woman's legal access to abortion, the woman's personal responsibility in the pregnancy is always at issue. If the woman has been raped or if she is the victim of incest, plays to the audience-at-large more seriously than if she was just out on a Friday night, doing her thing. In almost all situations where abortion is limited, consideration for exemption is given in cases of rape and incest. The underlying assumption is generally two fold. One, a rape or case of incest (which in a technical sense are almost always rape) is psychologically and often physically traumatic to the woman or child and consideration should be given that a pregnancy will simply compound that trauma. Secondly, the woman is not "choosing" sex, therefore she is more pure, clean, and honorable than the woman who has sinned, and should "take responsibility" for her actions. Pro-Choice arguments counter this by saying all unwanted pregnancies are inherently emotionally traumatic, and only an individual women, in her specific place in life, can "rate" the level of trauma - not a legislature.

For right to life folks, there is a problem with the logic of the "rape and incest exception" which they rarely bring up, as it makes them look cold and heartless. If a life has value from conception, and if God is in control, than that life is just as valuable if it came from a one night stand as if it came as the result of an act of violence. However, despite this clear inconstancy of their argument, few "anti-abortion" politicians or legislative bodies in the western world have suggested restricting access for the victims of these crimes.

Term of Pregnancy[edit]

The second major framing issue, when discussing the legality of abortion, is how far along the pregnancy is. Regardless of where they stand on the issue, or what they think of the legality of abortion, virtually everyone discussing this issue intuitively understands and agrees that an abortion that happens in the first week of the pregnancy is quite different from an abortion that happens in the 9th month. For ease of discussion, most people discussing the issue of abortion follow the medical "trimester" system, and see 5 distinct "term based" limits.

  • Personhood proponents frame the issue of abortion as "life begins at conception, and all abortions are equally wrong as they take that life." In the US, proponents of personhood views frequently try to give legal stats to the zygot.
  • First Trimester - This is the single most common view held by adults in the western world. The medical assumptions include the fact that the fetus has no brain or awareness, and the percentage of natural abortions (miscarriages) in the first trimester (generally given as "around 25%") makes an abortion in this trimester more palatable to many who would otherwise challenge a woman's right to abortion.
  • Second Trimester - Because the fetus is becoming more human-like, can be felt moving, gender can be determined, etc., emotional connections to the "fetus" being a true "baby" are far stronger. In most nations that regulate abortion, the second trimester tends to be the "battle ground" between legal and not.
  • Third trimester - In the third trimester, the fetus fully resembles a born baby, at least superficially. The emotional connection is impossible to deny at that point. Few if any nations that allow abortion, allow it during the third trimester unless the woman's health is threatened, or the fetus develops serious problems.
  • Always legal - like "personhood" on the other extreme, there are people who feel that the question is not and should not be about the age of the child in the uterus, but about the women's right to control her body and who or what lives inside it.

There is another framing regarding "term of pregnancy" that is a bit of a slippery slope due to technology and medical advances. "Ability to survive outside of the womb". In 1970s, with Roe v. Wade, this happily coincided with the beginning of the 3rd trimester. But as technology advances, that line is younger and younger. It is highly feasible that in the not too distant future, fertilized eggs themselves can be incubated - making the question of "can survive out of the womb" tricky[1].

Health of the Mother[edit]

The final topic that frames the abortion issue is the issue of "Health of mother". It is a undefined, "toss in" term, there to say "We understand that someone is carrying this baby, and we suppose at some point we should make sure she has the right to live".

Health of Mother is an intentionally vauge term, that allows pro-life legislators some cover when making abhorrent laws against women. Being so vague it can be addressed on a variety of levels.

  • Any pregnancy will harm the woman, so taken under the most strict sense, the "health of mother" is always an issue, and therefor always a way "out" of the strict laws.
  • Because of the recognition of the first fact, several states in the US, and many countries around the world require that the definition of "health of mother" be strictly regulated. The usual medical-ish terms include "major organ damage", "threat to her long term health" and "immediate threat to her life".
  • In the most extreme case, as found in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, women must not only be facing "an immediate threat to her life", but that threat must be confirmed by several (in the case of Kansas, three) doctors before the procedure commences.

The problem with all three of these views is that none of them are actually medical views, and all of them depend on how a doctor defines the terms "threat", "risk", and "chance" Must you be bleading out at the time, moments away from death? Can you just have hyper tension that sometimes leads to death? Doctor Tiller, prior to his murder, was charged or investigated on no less than 100 cases where he violated the law, because his view of "risk" was different from other doctors. Dr. Hern has expressed great concern that a doctor will hesitate in a critical situation because he cannot be sure that the women's life is "at risk", or the "threat of death" is immediate enough. And this happens in a world where doctors rarely agree with each other, and that in the instant of an emergency, there simply might not be 3 doctors around in rural parts of thsoe states.

The most compelling problem with "health of mother" and its enforcement is this: Why does the government, and not the woman in question, get to decide what is or is not a worthwhile risk to her own life? Why should it be necessary that she have a 10% risk to her life, or a 50% risk, or an unknown % risk, when it is her life in question? Why must she be told by the state that she requires the input of other doctors than the one she has chosen, when that question is never required for any other medical procedure. If she trusts the doctor she has seen for 10 years, through 2 other pregnancies, why should the state be able to force her to go get a second or third opinion -- and that those opinions must concur.

The egregiousness of "3 doctors who agree" and "must be shown to be immediate and unavoidable" is obvious when it is a real living individual woman who is facing what amounts to taking control of her own life or death.

Arguments for legal, safe abortion[edit]

US States that have decided they can tell you that you need to be counselled, cause you're not smart enough to know what you want.

Argument to protect women's health[edit]

The single most critical argument for insuring that women can find access to legal safe abortion is that women will attempt to abort, legal or not, safe or not. When a woman truly does not want a pregnancy, especially if that pregnancy is potentially problematic to her social or physical situation, and feels for herself, that there are no alternatives, she will try to end it even to the risk of her own life[2]. No amount of moral preaching, ethical discussions, or legal wrangling will change that reality.

With such a reality, it is incumbent on health institution and governments to insure that she has the same access to health care that she would if she wished to bring the pregnancy to term.

Argument from Medical Privacy[edit]

The argument for a woman's right to abortion according to the United States Supreme Court is based on a woman's right to privacy in making medical choices about her body and her reproduction. While articulated differently in Roe v. Wade, the basic premise that most legislative and judicial bodies in the Western World have used is that a woman maintains integrity of her body and of her medical decisions whether those decisions are about reproduction related issues including abortion, or physical issues like plastic surgery, or the right to seek medical attention at all, regardless of what might be "best for her" per the medical establishment or her social community.

In the United States, the break down for a legal medical right to abortion rests on these arguments:

  1. Women must have a fundamental right to bodily integrity, but this right must be balanced against the state's interest in the potential for life. This balance is resolved with the "undue burden" test (Casey).
  2. Women (and couples) have a right to privacy in intimate choices (Roe v. Wade; Griswold v. Connecticut).
  3. Discrimination on the basis of biological markers inherent in biological sex is suspect under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and requires strict scrutiny (contra Geduldig v. Aiello, Michael M., which would have to be overruled for this argument to be valid). Otherwise, biological marker-based discrimination enforces stereotypes that the law frowns upon, as seem in U.S. v. Virginia. Further, this type of discrimination is subordinative, and the zeitgeist of the Fourteenth Amendment being anti-subordinative, must be immediately suspect.
  4. Griswold v. Connecticut and its progeny (Eisenstadt) outline a fundamental right to consent in childrearing: this is how contraception is constitutionally vindicated. Disallowing abortion eviscerates this right, reading "consent" or "choice" where-ever a condom fails.
  5. Originalist/tradition-based counter-arguments ("no tradition of abortion in the U.S., therefore no right") are unavailing. First, tradition is a poor marker for objective reasoning, since the analysis of "tradition" is based on a conscious choice of what narrative to credit (Balkin, Tradition and Betrayal). Further, tradition may be unjust (Loving v. Virginia) and must be read with a level of "generosity" to ensure a just society (Levinson, Constitutional Faith).
  6. Textualist counter-arguments ("not in the text of the Constitution") are unavailing. Text is a poor marker for valuable meaning: reading text as complete in and of itself eviscerates cultural norms that the law is based on (Holy Trinity). Further, Constitutional text is written at a high level of abstraction: rights are defined broadly, not enumerated specifically (Ninth Amendment, Griswold v. Connecticut), so rights may exist that lie in the "penumbra" of the specifically enumerated rights.

Arguments against abortion[edit]

Can't convince someone with a valid argument? Then just gross them out

The arguments against abortion are many and varied, and generally rest on the emotive level of "you should not kill a baby". A large majority of these arguments are based on religious doctrine;[3][4] however, it is possible to oppose the practice on purely humanistic grounds.[5][6][7][8][9][10] though some are based only on common or logical morality and ethics.

In general, opponents of abortion see the child as a living human with the rights of a born human, and that abortion is necessarily murder. It is from this presumption that they develop the arguments of their position. [11]

See: (link) for a detailed analysis of the arguments of the Religious Right, and various counter arguments for each, in a side-by-side layout.

Legal arguments against a fundamental right of choice[edit]

  1. The Constitution of the US does not explicitly mention privacy or family planning much less abortion. It is necessarily a state-by-state issue.
  2. The presumed right to privacy, and therefore abortion is not fundamental to the national consciousness nor deeply rooted in our history. Therefore, it is not a fundamental right (applying Glucksberg or Scalia's VMI dissent).
  3. Unborn babies must have a fundamental right to bodily integrity, and abortion infringes that right.
  4. Women's rights to maintain medical privacy or integrity of their bodies cannot superceed the child's right to survive.

Biblical views on Abortion[edit]

It is known that abortificients [12] were known in the ancient Middle East [13] so it is likely they existed in ancient Isreal. Yet neither the Torah, nor the Bible as it developed over history mentions the practice. Only through interpretation can any link be drawn.

'Pro-life' groups cite the numerous injunctions against murder in both the New[14] and Old[15] Testaments, and argue that this forbids abortion - after all, the foetus was not convicted in a fair trial (it is not judicial execution, which many pro-life conservatives support), and it is not an act of war ( under which circumstances most Christians might accept killing), and thus it is murder. With the minimum age at which a foetus can survive outside its mother being pushed back further and further, in some cases past cut-off dates for abortion, such groups thus argue that foetuses are being aborted that could survive on their own (albeit with medical help) - to abort them, therefore, is murder, as mentioned above, and as Biblically prohibited. There is also a tenuous argument for distinct personhood before birth in Jeremiah 1:5[16], which states that 'before I formed you in the womb I chose you'; this is commonly interpreted by pro-life groups as implying separate existence before birth, but, given the context, is just as likely to refer to divine foreknowledge.

An argument has developed, on the other hand, that the Bible attaches less 'personhood' to foetuses and very young children. Exodus 21:22, a mere ten verses after the above injunction against murder, states that, if a man hits a woman, causing a miscarriage or premature birth, but no serious injury, he should be subject to a court-mediated fine from the woman's husband.[17] If this was the case, then the act of causing a miscarriage could not be construed as 'murder' (since compensation was not biblically allowed for murder[18]). This, while relying on a fair amount of extrapolation beyond the text itself, would seem to justify abortion, as it does not involve the taking of a human life. Furthermore, Numbers 5:11-31 seems to outline a priest-administered test for unfaithfulness, by administering an abortifacient 'bitter water' that would show if a woman had conceived (presumably out of wedlock)[19].

There is also some precedent for divinely caused abortions - Hosea 9:11-16[20] (in which Hosea prays for God to cause Ephraim's women to miscarry), for example.

Flying Spaghetti Monster views[edit]

It seems that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, known as Pastafarianism, takes no formal position.[21]

A collection of Essays by Rational Wikians[edit]

Like every other group of people, the views of Rational Wikians ranges on this topic. But these essays are good, and worth reading to see various perspectives on the issue.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. While this example is extreme in its speculation, the youngest child to survive was at 21 weeks (2009), which technically falls a full month earlier than Roe contemplated.
  3. As can be seen on the website of
  4. Priests for Life/
  5. Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League
  6. Kathryn Reed: Feminist, Prolife and Atheist
  7. Atheist revolution: Some Atheists Oppose Abortion Too
  8. LifeSiteNews: Even a "Raving Atheist" Can Be Pro-Life - Interview
  9. Judy Ferris: "Why should atheist be pro-life"
  10. Libertarians for Life
  11. As seen at Achewood
  12. Not necessarily effective procedures, but ones everyone understood had the intent if not effect of ending a pregnancy
  14. Matthew 5:21-22
  15. Exodus 21:12
  16. Jeremiah 1:15
  17. Exodus 21:22
  18. Numbers 35:31
  19. Numbers 5:11-31
  20. Hosea 9:11-16
  21. Flying Spaghetti Monster - abortion