Evaluating the Abortion Debate

It seems that in America, once an issue has been debated for a while the arguments for the issue end up becoming nothing more than bumper stickers. While we can flesh out arguments, the “bumper-stickers” adequately summarize the arguments. The thing is, a lot of these arguments are bad and they happen on the pro-life and pro-choice sides. For the pro-choice sides, their entire stance is based upon bad arguments, while for the pro-life side their arguments merely weaken their case.

“Abortion is a complicated issue…”

It’s very popular for people on both sides of the abortion issue to say, “Well, it’s a complicated issue.” The fact is, the issue just isn’t all that complicated. If the embryo or fetus is a human being, then he has the right to life and there’s no reason to abort; if the embryo or fetus isn’t a human being, then there’s no reason to oppose abortion.

And that’s really what it boils down to at a popular level. Is the fetus human or not? If the fetus is human, then we must outlaw abortion. If the fetus isn’t a human, then we shouldn’t restrict abortion.

What people are generally referring to are the psychological issues surrounding the abortion debate and other difficulties, such as the emotional stress a mother must endure, the physical stress, the financial difficulties in even carrying a child to term, etc. But none of these deal with the issue of taking a human life itself; after all, all of these problems can be alleviated if not eliminated. Likewise, the psychological issues – traumatic though they are – don’t (or shouldn’t) factor into our decision on whether or not abortions should occur.

Let us assume that a single mother who has an 8 month old infant comes home one day after being laid off from work. Due to the economy, she knows that the best her and her children can hope for is six months unemployment; after that, there’s no aid to be had. She worries she won’t find a job. Likewise, her young infant is still breastfeeding and can’t take formula, so the mother’s body is put at a burden on top of all the issues of paying for her infant. Not seeing any hope for her future, she takes her baby to the doctor and has the baby put to death. Would we, as a nation, support a mother’s legal right to perform such an action? What if the child were two-years-old? What if the child were ten-years-old?

For most people, the immediate reaction is “absolutely not!” Why? Because we properly view all the stages of the child’s development as being a human. We also think that innocent human beings cannot be intentionally killed, especially in a government-sanctioned manner.

So returning to the issue of the fetus, if the fetus is a human being, just like the child in our example, why should the psychological aspects surrounding abortion impact how we view the legality of abortion? While the psychological aspects are real and need to be addressed, they shouldn’t play a part in the legality or morality of the issue.

Thus, the issue of abortion boils down to whether or not the fetus is a human or not. By definition, that’s not complicated. So it’s actually a very simple issue.

“You could be killing a person who will cure cancer.”

A lot of people on the pro-life side like to use the argument that we could inevitably abort someone who cures cancer, or we could abort the next Gandhi. While this is true, it’s equally true that we could be aborting the next Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin. For every potential Einstein aborted, there could be a potential Hitler.

We can’t argue about the consequences or potential consequences because there’s no possible way for us to know the future. Only God knows possible futures and what could have been, at best we can guess and hypothesize, but we can never actually know.

So the argument doesn’t really work because there’s no possible way to know. For instance, it could be that if Bob marries Julie, they’ll have a child who grows up to be the best president the US has ever seen. But if he marries Sarah, their child will grow up to be a dictator and murder millions of people. Of course, the opposite could be true as well. Should Bob pick based on what could be true? No, because there’s no way.

When we look to the rightness or wrongness of an action, though we can have consequences in mind or potential consequences, we must evaluate the action for itself. When it comes to abortion, it’s either right or wrong because of what it does, not because of what it might do.

“It has the potential to be life/human, but it’s not a life/human yet.”

Some people argue that we don’t know when life begins while others, more accurately, say we don’t know when a fetus becomes a human.

To nip this one quickly, to say, “We don’t know when life begins” is a drastic misunderstanding of life; even if the fetus isn’t a human, it is alive. A cell is alive. Our DNA is alive. Both of these compose a fetus, so a fetus is alive. Life begins at conception. The question is, what kind of life is this?

We must determine whether or not a fetus is a human being. Some people might return to the whole, “Well this is a complicated issue,” but it’s not. The only way this issue could be complicated is if we think differentiating between species is complicated. If you can’t look at Adam, a dog, and a giraffe and tell that we are looking at three distinct species then the issue might be complicated to you; if you can differentiate between species, then discovering if the fetus is human or not isn’t difficult. There are some easy ways:

  • Is there any case in nature where one species becomes another species in the matter of a few months? The answer to this is no, because we know from science that a species can only beget its own species.
  • If we grant that a species can become another species, is there any case where this happens to every member of the species? Some might argue that acorns become oak trees and that caterpillars become butterflies, but these arguments actually work against the idea that a fetus isn’t a human. An acorn has but one direction – to become an oak tree. Thus, both have the same essential nature, meaning they are of the same “species.” They are simply at different stages of their natures. The same is true of caterpillars and butterflies; a caterpillar is simply at a different stage of development within its species, but it not a different species, otherwise it could become something other than a caterpillar.

Imagine you are playing a video game that is composed of linear levels; it’s known that everyone who beats level 1 moves onto level 2, and so on. If you’re on level 1 and your friend is on level 53, even though you’re both playing different levels that look different, the fact is it’s still the same game. Each level isn’t a different game; if it were, then when you finish level 10 you could start in a game that has no levels.

The same is true of how species work; they don’t give birth to a different species and then that species grows up to be the original species. Because a puppy will always become a dog, we know that they are of the same species, but simply at different levels of development.

So when we look at the fetus, we know that it’s impossible for a human to beget something that isn’t human, so the fetus is actually a human; he has no choice but to be birthed and eventually become an adult (barring any intervention). A fetus cannot become a dog, a tree, or anything else; the fetus will become an adult at some point, indicating that the fetal stage is just that, a stage in human development and not an entirely new species.

  • A fetus has a unique set of DNA. She is not just a “clump of cells” anymore than we’re clumps of cells; she has DNA that is unique to her.

So while the fetus may not look like us, that doesn’t mean she’s not human. After all, the new born doesn’t look like a teenager, but we wouldn’t say the newborn isn’t a human being.

From a scientific viewpoint, the issue is simple; the fetus is a human.

“I’m against abortions, but they should be legal for cases of rape and incest.”

This one is another issue that isn’t complex, but simple (psychologically it’s complex). Why are you against abortions? Because you believe the fetus is a human being and therefore entitled to rights? If that is the case, how could rape or incest justify the killing of the innocent human being? If the fetus is innocent, as tragic as the events surrounding the creation of the fetus are, how do said events justify killing the fetus? Again, while the psychology surrounding the event is tragic, it shouldn’t play into whether it’s right or wrong to kill the fetus.

“If these women weren’t sluts, then they wouldn’t get abortion.”

Many pro-life proponents argue, “Well, don’t have sex.” While there is truth to this, we often forget that not all abortions are the by-product of freely given sex. Some abortions are caused by physically forced rape, while others by psychologically forced rape. In such instances, simply saying, “You shouldn’t have done it” doesn’t solve the issue.

Likewise, even in cases where the woman willingly engaged in sex, telling her, “Well you shouldn’t have had sex” makes the fetus seem like a negative consequence. This fetus is a child, which means she’s a blessing. While we should encourage people not to have sex prior to marriage, playing the “should of/would of” game doesn’t solve the issue of abortion.