Presumably, a mother gets an abortion because the child is unwanted. Why the natural death of the unwanted child would cause heartbreak to the mother is a tough question to answer.
Let us suppose that at some point in the future, mankind has developed the ability to “edit” the body of the fetus, even from the earliest stages of the pregnancy, in whatever way we please. Would it be moral to operate on a fetus so that it grows up with some sort of deformity or disability? Is it ethical to purposefully cause the fetus to grow into person with no limbs, or perhaps a person who is blind?
Most people would say that it would not be. Within the context of the abortion debate, the question that must then be asked is, why is it morally acceptable to kill a fetus but not to maim it? If the personhood of the fetus has already been established in the discussion, then this can be a very convincing argument for the pro-life side. If the personhood of the fetus has not been established, however, then it can be easily answered by the pro-choice party.
Maiming the fetus would be wrong, in their view, because the fetus will eventually achieve personhood, even though it does not currently have it, and will then be hindered throughout its life by its disability. One might infer from this that it would be acceptable to maim a fetus that is scheduled for abortion. This seems rather cruel and unethical, especially if the fetus has developed to the point where it can feel pain.
But regardless of whether or not personhood has been established in the discussion, this argument shows that potential is of some value. If potential life has a right to not be maimed, then we can assume that the future of the fetus gives it some intrinsic value, whether or not it is a person while in the womb. This should at least cause people to regard abortion as something that is not to be entered into lightly or for trivial reasons.
There is a pro-choice argument that attempts to use ethics to prove that the mother has a right to kill the fetus, even though it is a living person, because it is a parasite that steals nutrients from the mother. Because of this parasitic relationship, the argument goes, killing the fetus is self-defense rather than murder.1
The first problem with this argument is that it is biologically inaccurate on many different levels.2 Parasites are labelled parasitic animals whether they are in a parasitic stage of their life cycle or not. If the fetus is a parasite, then every adult mammal, whether it be a human or an elephant, is also a parasite. If this is so, then the term has been so stripped of meaning as to be useless.
Obviously then, the fetus is not a parasite by any truly scientific definition. Instead, when people call the fetus a parasite they are using the popular layman’s definition of the word. This article is a response to the ethical arguments that have been developed using this definition. The author assumes in this article that the fetus is a human being and a person. Doing so is appropriate in this instance as the argument being rebutted claims to provide justification for abortion despite the personhood of the fetus.
The fetus has no moral guilt.
The fetus did not intentionally enter a woman’s womb, and in most cases its presence there is actually a result of the woman’s decisions. The pro-choice person will say that this does not matter, as bodily violation is not necessarily intentional.
This is true, but it does not mean that the intentions of the violating party are irrelevant. There is an undeniable difference in the moral guilt of someone who has accidentally brushed their hand against another person and someone who has purposefully groped another person. In both cases the person violated has a right to put a stop to the action. He or she may resort to force, even lethal force, to prevent someone from groping them. However, it would be wholly inappropriate to use the same force against a person who has accidentally brushed up against them. That person has not intentionally done any harm and does not deserve such treatment.
Similarly, the fetus has not intentionally invaded the body of a woman. Using lethal action against it, therefore, is an immoral act and the taking of an innocent life.
There is a moral obligation to sacrifice to preserve innocent life.
There are a host of analogies used to argue that humans do not have an obligation to preserve innocent life at the expense of their quality of life. Perhaps the most well-known is the “famous violinist” analogy created by Judith Jarvis Thompson:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged now he will die, but he can be safely unplugged in nine months.] Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it?3
The first major problem with this analogy is that it implies rape. The fetal parasite argument seeks to prove that abortion is permissible in all situations, so creating a situation that resembles rape in a supporting analogy is intellectually dishonest. This alone is reason enough for us to discard the analogy, as the scenario is a slanted representation of the moral dynamic. For the sake of discussion, however, we shall further dissect Thompson’s analogy.
We must first establish the crux of this contention, that life is valuable. We can do this using assumptions made by the pro-choice side to avoid a debate on the point. If abortion is necessary, as they claim, to ensure quality of life for women, we may infer that life has some value. Because they claim that government has no right to interfere with their reproductive decisions (and, thus, their quality of life), we may also infer that they believe their quality of life to have value that exceeds governmental law. God, divine law, higher law, natural law, morality, ethics—whatever one chooses to call it, the pro-choice community indirectly references it when placing value upon life.
There are very few situations that mentally healthy people regard as being worse than death, and some hold that no such situations exist. Quality of life is clearly secondary to life itself, and to say that one’s right to a certain quality of life trumps another person’s right to life itself is fallacious. If such ethics were to be implemented into law it would be legal to murder someone for their possessions.
Some would reply that although keeping the unborn child alive may be the moral thing to do, compelling someone to do the right thing is illegal. This is untrue in many cases, but proving it to be untrue falls outside the scope of this post. Instead, I shall simply explain why statements like the one below are irrelevant.
We are never legally required to sacrifice our bodies to save other people’s lives in any other circumstances. We aren’t even required to do so for our own children after they are born. I would be legally within my rights to deny a kidney, or even my blood, to my child, even immediately after birth. But for some reason people still insist that I should be required to carry the thing around for nine months inside my body. The inconsistency here is unfathomable. My right to bodily autonomy is not changed by the fact that I happen to be pregnant.4
Using governmental law as a framework for the debate is pointless. Regardless of whether the government has a right to compel a person to preserve child’s life, that person has a moral obligation to do so. Add to this that we have already established that life has value that is of a higher origin than human law and this argument becomes laughable.
Morality may not be disregarded in this debate.
There are several analogies that are used to argue that morality may be ignored. An example of one of these reads, “It would be nice for me to donate half of my money to charity, but most people understand that that would leave me financially crippled and and would understand if I did not. Similarly, it would be nice for me to keep the fetus alive but people should understand if I choose not to.” This analogy is highly flawed. While it is acceptable to use a loose analogy to illustrate a point, a hypothetical should resemble its real-life counterpart as closely as possible when it is being used as an ethical argument.
A better analogy for the situation would read something like this: You live in a prison cell by yourself with enough food supplied to you daily to keep you alive and healthy. One day, a young child is placed in your cell with you. The amount of food you receive is increased from that point forward so that you have enough for yourself and the child. In this situation, would it be morally right to kill the child for eating superfluous food and being your unwilling roommate? This analogy is better for the following reasons:
- It involves a specific human child rather than an ambiguous people group (those benefiting from the charity).
- The child will either live or die depending on your choice. The beneficiaries of a charity will most likely not die because one person did not give a contribution, and this lack of seriousness is implicit in the illustration.
- The child in this example is unwillingly placed in a situation of dependence. The beneficiaries of charity in the other example are not.
When presented with this analogy, which is far more precise, most would say that it is immoral to kill the child. Also, using the term nice is a red herring fallacy. What is at question here is not what is nice but what is moral. While it may be “nice” of you to donate half of your money to charity, it would not be immoral for you to save your money.
Trying to create a workaround of morality in this debate is intellectually dishonest, as the entire purpose of the argument is to prove that it is not immoral to kill the fetus.
We may perhaps debate the ethics of forcing someone to do the right thing, but what is evident is that abortion is not moral, regardless of its legal status. Members of society must hold themselves accountable to the higher law of morality, even when human law would indicate that doing otherwise is permissible.
1. “Pregnant people are people, too.” Valprehension. 2013. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://valprehension.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/pregnant-people-are-people-too/>
2. Johnson, Thomas L. “Why the Embryo or Fetus Is Not a Parasite.” Libertarians for Life. 1974. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://www.l4l.org/library/notparas.html>
3. Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion.” 1996. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm>
4. Ibid., Valprehension.
I ended my previous post by saying that the pro-choice position promotes anti-intellectualism and implying that the pro-life position does not. I will now be explaining why.
The pro-choice leadership has long recognized that the fetus is alive, reconciling this knowledge with their support of abortion using Singer-esque ethics. However, the knowledge that the fetus is a human life is too much for the average person to know and still support abortion. That is why Planned Parenthood has taken great pains to have the idea that the fetus is a non-living clump of cells firmly entrenched in the mind of the public. To this day, one of the most common objections to pro-life arguments is that the fetus is not alive.
This alone does not make the movement anti-intellectual. There is a difference between being misinformed and being illogical or irrational, which is true anti-intellectualism. However, because the pro-choice community sees portraying the fetus as a non-living being as their hill to die on, their misinformation leads them into anti-intellectualism. They feel forced to defend bad science in order to maintain their pro-choice stance. This very often leads to horrendously illogical arguments and cognitive dissonance.
Take, for example, the young lady who told me that the fetus is not alive until it is eight weeks old because that is when it “develops a gender.” We can perhaps pardon this woman for not knowing that gender is determined by the X and Y chromosomes at conception and not by the presence of genitalia. After all, science is not the strong suit of most people. But the lack of basic reasoning skills she displayed is inexcusable for someone who takes a stand on an issue as important as abortion. Are asexual organisms such as earthworms and jellyfish not alive? Is a neutered horse not alive? Even without knowledge of the function of the X and Y chromosomes, she should have been able to ask herself such questions and realize that gender (and much less the presence of genitalia) is not a prerequisite for life.
The slogans of the movement are often just as irrational as their science. In part one of this post I talked about the “no uterus, no opinion” mentality and how it shows that the pro-choice community places a greater value upon emotions than facts. When we follow it out to its logical conclusion, it also undermines their philosophical framework of radical feminism. If reproductive decisions are entirely the domain of women, with men not allowed even so much as a voice, then it follows that all the responsibilities of reproduction belong solely to women. Reproduction becomes a “woman’s job” and the blurring of gender roles that feminism tries to achieve is undone.
While there may be the occasional misinformed or unintelligent pro-life person, the pro-choice movement’s “logic” collapses in on itself in a way that the pro-life movement’s does not, with their own slogans and arguments being detrimental to their cause. This is due mainly to the fact that the pro-life movement is not owned by a massive corporation that force-feeds it information and misinformation. With the possible exception of the Catholic church, whose contributions are mostly theological rather than scientific or philosophical, there is no group or company that holds the pro-life movement in its grip the way that Planned Parenthood does the pro-choice community. Pro-life people are left to do their own research and, more importantly, have not been programmed by propaganda to use a false scientific basis for their arguments.
The pro-life community has long been stereotyped as a group of unintelligent bigots, generally of the Christian fundamentalist variety. But if we clear away the propaganda (or examine it) it becomes clear that the pro-choice movement can be profoundly anti-intellectual itself.
The pro-abortion group NARAL recently released a website and video (or as they prefer to call it, an “experience”) that serves as a good example. The video, which is a stop-motion compilation of thousands of photographs, was created to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. No argument is made. No evidence is presented. The video is simply an expensive piece of eye-candy designed to affirm people in their support of abortion using fluffy statements like, “It’s really important for me to be able to determine my own future.”
The slideshow that accompanies the video contains more of the same. Next to pictures of professional models sit snippets of text in beautiful typography, one of which is “Choice is the utmost act of selflessness and compassion for humanity.” The movement that spawned the slogans “My body, my choice!” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!” (Emphasis mine. But not really.) is now being cast as selfless? It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The simple reason for this is that pro-choice community needs to feel good. For many pro-choice people, their support of abortion is entirely about feelings.
The “No uterus, no opinion” slogan repeated ad nauseam on blogs and campuses is a classic example of the sheer emotionalism that fuels the pro-choice agenda at the expense of rational thought. It is revealing that they are willing to discount the opinion and arguments of an entire people group because of their gender, but even more so that their reason for doing so is that the group they are discriminating against can “never know what it is like to be pregnant.” This is nothing short of an admission that it is feelings and not facts that determine their stance on abortion.
The ultimate expression of this sentiments-over-science mentality may be unearthed when one asks a pro-choice person at what point the unborn child becomes alive. Shockingly, there are those who claim that the child is not alive until it is fully born. The belief that there is essentially some sort of a magic wand that passes over the unborn child and transforms it from a fetus into a baby as soon as the umbilical cord is cut is sheer nonsense. Even more surprising are those who claim that the unborn child is a baby if the mother wants it and a fetus if she does not. It is yet another example of feelings being more important than facts to the movement.
I would like to conclude this article by saying that I do not label every person within the pro-choice camp as anti-intellectual. There are those, such as the perceptive feminist Naomi Wolf, whose intellectual prowess I have great respect for. I am speaking of the rank and file of the movement, the average pro-choice person on the street. Yes, I will admit that there are those within the pro-life camp who could be labelled as anti-intellectual as well, but every movement has supporters who do not represent it well. There is, therefore, a question that needs to be asked: Does the movement itself foster anti-intellectualism? I believe that in regard to the abortion rights movement the answer is “yes.”
I recently took part in an online discussion in which it was claimed that criminalizing abortion does not lower abortion rates. The source cited was a 2007 New York Times article titled “Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare.”
The person who cited the Times went on to say that, while she opposed abortion as a moral evil, if women were going to have abortions regardless we may as well make it safe and legal for them.
The first problem with this argument is that the best statistic I could find on the subject says that about only (and it is a great shame that I am forced by pro-choice claims of thousands of deaths in illegal abortions to use the word only in such a context) thirty-nine women died as a result of injury during abortion in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade.1
But that aside, I was curious to know just how accurate the claims of the study are. The legality of a behavior has much to do with its cultural acceptance, and its cultural acceptance has much to do with how much it is practiced. I found it hard to believe that a lifestyle choice as heavily stigmatized and as highly controversial as abortion would not become more prevalent with legal sanction.
The study was conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), a branch of the United Nations, and the Guttmacher Institute. If you are unfamiliar with the Guttmacher Institute, they are a reproductive rights group founded in 1968 as the Center for Family Planning Program Development, a semi-autonomous division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.2 The Times article did not contain a link to the report, but it can be safely guessed based upon its contents and publication date that the report in question is “Induced Abortion: Estimated Rates and Trends Worldwide.” This report was apparently updated with new data in “Induced Abortion: Incidence and Trends Worldwide from 1995 to 2008.” I will be addressing the updated version of the report in this article.
It is not difficult to find an agenda within the report, namely that abortion mortality is on the rise and we need to make a push for safe and legal abortion, and the Guttmacher Institute has been criticized by the pro-life community and charged with manipulating the data.3 While other pro-life writers and speakers have focused on exposing errors about abortion mortality rates in the report, I thought that I would focus on the claim that abortion’s legal status does not affect the procedure’s popularity.
If banning abortion does not cause a decrease in the number of abortions performed, then why was there a steady increase in U.S. abortions following Roe v. Wade until 1981? One would think that this hike in numbers would not have occurred if the rate of abortion is truly not linked to legalization. It is, of course, possible that there was another factor that caused a large dip in abortion just prior to Roe v. Wade, or that there was another factor following Roe v. Wade that caused an anomalistic rise.
This, however, seems unlikely when one considers that other countries show similar steady rises in abortion rates following the procedure’s legalization. Below is a graph showing the rise in abortion rates from 1969 to 2011 in England and Wales. Abortion was legalized in the United Kingdom by the Abortion Act of 1967, which took effect in 1968.4
Every country that I managed to uncover statistics for showed the same pattern: when abortion is legalized, abortion rates rise steadily for the next few years. Because of this, it seems almost undeniable that legalization does indeed cause an increase in abortions. Believing the titular claim of the New York Times, that “legal or not, abortion rates compare,” would lead us to expect something very different than what we see: minor up-and-down fluctuations in abortion rates from year to year with no steady rises over long periods of time.
So, then, what is the true cause of the comparable abortion rates between countries where the procedure is legal and those where it is illegal? I believe that the availability of contraceptives is the main factor. According to the Guttmacher Institute,
Eastern Europe presents a very different situation, with an abortion rate that is nearly four times that of Western Europe. This discrepancy corresponds with Eastern Europe’s relatively low levels of modern contraceptive use and low prevalence of highly effective methods such as the pill and the IUD.5
In highly developed countries, like the United States and England, abortion is far less likely to be used as a form of birth control than poverty-stricken nations where more orthodox contraceptive procedures are not available. If abortion were to be legalized in one of these poverty-stricken countries it would likely cause a rise in abortion rates similar to the ones that occurred in the United States and the UK. And if modern birth control were readily available, these countries would likely have a far lower abortion rate than nations where the practice is legal.
I believe that the data shows that legalization does indeed increase the abortion rate and that it is birth control that wreaks havoc on abortion-to-population ratios and contributes to the confusion that surrounds the ramifications of legalized abortion. But whether I am right in my conclusions or not, the claims of WHO and the Guttmacher Institute are a weak support for one’s stance on an issue of such great moral import as abortion.
1. “Before Abortion Was Legal.” Chastity.com. 05 Feb. 2013. <http://www.chastity.com/chastity-qa/birth-control/abortion/before-abortion-was-legal>
2. “The History of the Guttmacher Institute.” Guttmacher Institute. 05 Feb. 2013. <http://www.guttmacher.org/about/history.html>
3. “Guttmacher/WHO Study Is Abortion Propaganda, Pro-Life Leader Says.” The New American. 2012. 05 Feb. 2013.<http://tiny.cc/iw41rw>
4. “FACTBOX: Abortion law around the world.” Reuters. 2008. 05 Feb. 2013. <http://tiny.cc/i041rw>
5. “Long-Term Worldwide Decline In Abortions Has Stalled.” Guttmacher Institute. 2012. 05 Feb. 2013. <http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2012/01/18/index.html>