When I was in university, I had a debate with a classmate over abortion. I argued that killing an unborn child is very different from killing a full grown person because the child has no relationships, no memories, no personality; it’s basically a clean slate, making it less than human. He then posed me the following thought experiment: imagine a 30-year-old man. One day he gets into an accident and goes into a coma. He looses his memories, his sense of self, his ability to speak or walk; he becomes a clean slate. He’s got no family and is given a nurse who he’s fully dependent on. In 9 months time he’ll wake up and begin to re-learn all he knew of the world, building new memories, which will form his personhood. Now this nurse has to work extra hard with her new patient. She catches the flu, having to work while she’s ill. The man is very heavy so it’s difficult to give him care. The nurse it burdened but she has no way out of this situation until he wakes up. Is it ok for her to kill him? Being pro-choice, I had to say yes.
This scenereo is just as ludicrous as the pro-choice violinist argument. Yet it has never left my mind. It only refutes one of many arguments in favor of abortion, but I've been partial to it since. I bring it up because it's what reintroduced me to the debate.
Abortion – in essence – is wrong. But we cannot dismiss the scope of circumstantial and personal factors that so often make it a grey issue. Unfortunately, the mainstream – fueled by egos, agendas and ignorance – has simplified the debate down to two labels: pro-choice and pro-life. These classifications have boiled things down to a black and white presidential debate topic. Such an approach is detrimentally narrow-minded. It forces those who’ve given little thought to abortion to choose between two extremes, both of which have heinous implications for society.
Let’s start at the very beginning: conception. We cannot argue whether or not human life begins at conception, as it plainly does. What we can debate is the value of that life, how that value changes as the life grows, becoming more complex, and the moral implications of killing that life in its different stages. Clearly, this is not a black and white issue.
“As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body. There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even–this was seriously maintained–a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped. Of the considerations that have stopped it, one is the fascinating and moving view provided by the sonogram, and another is the survival of ‘premature’ babies of feather-like weight, who have achieved ‘viability’ outside the womb. … The words ‘unborn child,’ even when used in a politicized manner, describe a material reality.” -Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great (pp. 220-21)
First we need to address the language surrounding abortion, as there is nothing more powerful. Like with most touchy subjects, the language changes depending on certain factors. A happy expectant mother embraces terms like “baby” and “miracle.” But if the pregnancy is unwanted, terms such as “fetus,” “cluster of cells” – andthe most venomous –“parasite” are used. In the name of complete accuracy, I’ll use the term “developing human.”
According to pro-choicers, the fact that the developing human feeds off its mother – needing her to survive – negates its humanity. Sustaining its life becomes the woman’s burden, therefore itcan justifiably be rid of. By this logic we can classify nursing children as parasites, as they too feed off their mother, needing her to survive. Aren’t three-year-olds a burden on the mother? They too must be parasites. Maybe it only counts if the baby is inside the womb? What about inside the birthing canal? What about halfway out of the mother? What about born but still attached at the umbilical cord? The distinction is laughable.
With the ‘pro-choice’ movement taking over in most of Western society, we are starting to see our respect for human life deteriorate in a very public manner. Abortion is first and foremost a moral issue. The problem is, morals are derived from ethics, something our current society lacks. Do we want to live in a world where having an abortion is a procedure equated to getting an appendix removed? Hitchens considered this attitude long gone; unfortunately we are seeing it re-emerge.
There’s Kasey Locksworth, flippantly boasting about her looks after getting the procedure. There’s Sarah Catt, self-aborting her baby at 8 months, with public opinion deeming her sentencing “too harsh.” There’s Corinne from the Dr. Phil show, who admitted to having 7 abortions (2 of which were late term), without a second thought from the audience or any guilt from Corinne.
Getting an abortion at any stage and for any reason has been justified in the name of women’s rights. Being pro-choice has become the trendy liberal stance because it's associated with female empowerment. Supporting the pro-choice movement is now some kind of democratic duty; if you’re not pro-choice, you’re a bible hugging hater of women. But abortion is not a woman’s rights issue; it’s a human rights issue. In reality, being pro-choice doesn’t make you a feminist on the voyage to ensure reproductive rights for all; it makes you just as inconsiderate as the people who picket abortion clinics.
Unless it’s necessary to preserve the life of the mother, or in the rare instances of being forced by the father, there’s only one reason abortions occur: the mother doesn’t want to have the child. This might sound a little unfair, after all, isn’t there a huge difference between getting an abortion because one was raped verses just because one isn’t ready? Morally there is not. Killing an innocent life is always morally wrong. But that is not to say that we cannot empathize and understand women in harsh circumstances. A rape victim should not have to face scrutiny for terminating their pregnancy at an early stage, yet she should still go through a mourning process, understanding that abortion was a choice, not a right. The reason for abortion doesn’t change the action of abortion, so it’s morally irrelevant. What is relevant is at what point of gestation abortion occurs and with what attitude.
What is an abortion? Is it murder? Murder is committed for only three reasons: profit, passion, compulsion. These are not the reasons for abortion so it seems unfair to classify it so. When abortion is done in the late term, and/or flippantly and without remorse, it’s butchery; it’s like killing an animal, a life you value less than a human’s. When an abortion is done early on, with careful consideration, emotional weight, remorse, and empathy, there’s no word for it. It’s a complex issue that often touches many lives. Unfortunately, because of our distain for grey areas, we took reality out of the debate, embracing extreme points of view that are now paving a road to our devolution.
We condone killing human life today because of a court decision made in the 70’s.
“When it made that declaration, it rejected dozens of decisions of other courts, in America and in Great Britain, holding that the baby in the womb is a person. This is reminiscent of the Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 in which it ruled that blacks were not persons” -Andrew P. Napolitano
We are of course talking about Roe v. Wade. Please consider this logic for a moment. A woman that carries a human life for 9 months and gets an abortion the day before delivery has done nothing wrong. A woman that gives birth to a pre-mature baby, and then stabs it shortly after delivery, has committed murder. This does not compute.
Since Roe v. Wade, the majority of countries legalized abortion with restrictions such as term, health, mental health, and risk to the mother. Most of these countries have deemed third trimester abortions illegal, and the majority of women do not abort after the second trimester. Yet there are three countries (Canada, North Korea and China), as well as the state of New Jersey, that have no legal restriction on abortion, allowing termination up to the moment of birth. Tens of thousands of late term abortions (after the 20th week of gestation) are performed in America alone (11,874 in 2003). Our casual attitude towards this is numbing.
How do we identify the point at which abortion becomes wrong? Perhaps it’s when the developing human attains consciousness? Unfortunately science is behind on that one. Some say consciousness begins as early as 24 weeks, yet does not actualize until months after the child is born. Perhaps we judge it by when it can feel pain, which can be as early as 8 weeks. What about brain activity? 6 weeks. Heartbeat? 5 weeks. The truth is, it’s always wrong, but the farther developed, the more wrong it becomes. Abortion starts off as a personal, moral issue, slowly turning into a legal one as the child grows. At some point, it has to be deemed criminal. Unfortunately, we have legally denied the baby in the womb personhood. Because of this, late term abortions are rarely punished and go one to be performed with general apathy.
We have not found the answer to what it means to be a person, yet we legally deny a developing human personhood based on arbitrary factors. This denial is a slippery slope. Is a 25 year old is more of a person than a 2 year old? Is a developmentally delayed man not a person? Is someone in a coma not a person? Is a woman with Alzheimer's less of a person than she used to be? On what basis is the distinction of personhood?
We must acknowledge that although it’s easier to empathize with a full-grown woman than her unborn child, abortion is still morally wrong. Each one should be met with a heavy heart and followed by a mourning process. Termination of any pregnancy should be seen as a critical choice, and to quote Naomi Wolfe, as a “lesser of two evils.” Once we accept this, then we can seriously consider determining a grace period where a choice can be made; if not, we will go back to the times of home hanger abortions. Currently we accept termination as late as up to the day of birth, which makes us no more moral than a dog that eats its young. Society needs to reconsider its attitude towards abortion without taking to extremes.
It’s easy to pick a side and never reconsider it; it’s hard to mull over something for years, only to admit you don’t have all the answers. Most prefer the former. We like distinct labels. We leave grey areas for the indecisive, the un-opinionated, the soft. Pick a side and stick to it or else you’re weak. This kind of thinking is a disgrace to logic and is unforgivable in the case of abortion. My hope is to begin to change this attitude; we should not live in a world where conception is labeled as a miracle, nor should we continue to devolve into a society that calls it a consequence.
– Julia Tourianski