Abortion has been a "hot topic" for the past several decades. It is also one that we don't particularly enjoy discussing because of the nature of the topic and, subsequently, the fear of stirring up tempers. We have forgotten how to converse civilly and respectfully about "hot topics" like abortion and instead try to take the easy way out through phrases like "you do you" and "...if it makes you happy." Such sayings may work on a lower scale, but abortion is a legislation that impacts millions of lives.
We've forgotten what our priorities are and that, perhaps, no matter where we fall on the "abortion debate," we care about basic human rights, which includes women's rights. The question now is—coming from the human rights perspective, what are the implications of legalizing abortion?
Going into this post, I acknowledge that I am Christian, and Christianity has been associated with the pro-life movement. That said, I do not believe that religion is (or can be) separated from science. In fact, religion does support science (there are many books out there to support this, but for a basic introduction, I recommend Frank Turek's Stealing From God). Though I was born to a Christian mother, I became a skeptic then agnostic then a believer again, and in those first several months after returning to faith, I was a Christian who supported abortion. While the Bible did get me questioning the morality of abortion, it was not the Bible alone that convinced me to change my stance on abortion. The Bible called me to find reasons for my beliefs, and in the process of my search for answers, I came to the logical conclusion that abortion is morally wrong.
In this post, I present seven arguments from the pro-abortion stance and why they are myths, not facts. Some facts that come out of these may explain some situations for why abortion is morally wrong but not all. Together, these seven conclusions reveal the flawed thinking behind the argument for abortion and why we need to change the mentality that we must kill our unborn children to protect ourselves (when, in reality, we can work together to protect both the mother and her unborn child).
#1 A Fetus is "Just a Mass of Cells"
In one of my WGST classes, we read excerpts from Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth. In it, she writes that she has no respect for a mass of cells growing in her body. In fact, many take Valenti's argument a step further to argue that life does not begin at conception. Bill Nye's reason is that the fertilized egg (zygote) needs to implant in the uterine wall for life to develop; we wouldn't hold a man or woman responsible for the life of their child if a fertilized egg failed to implant.
Just as there is a difference between an individual that dies of natural causes and an individual who is intentionally shot by another person, there is a difference between a zygote that fails to implant when left alone and a zygote that is aborted through emergency contraceptives that prevent implantation. I would not expect that law to hold an individual accountable for discovering the body of someone who died of a heart attack, but I would expect the law to convict an individual who aims a gun at another person and shoots that person through the heart. Likewise, I would not expect the law to hold a couple accountable for thousands of zygotes that fail to implant through natural causes, but I expect the law to hold them accountable for purposefully inducing the abortion of a zygote.
There is also a difference between a simple "mass of cells" and a mass of a cells that has the potential to grow into a living, breathing human being. If you think about this logically and scientifically, we are all a "mass of cells." If we wouldn't condone the murder of a grown "mass of cells" (human), why are we so eager to legalize the murder of a smaller "mass of cells" that will develop into a living, breathing human being?
Abortion Based on Fetus Viability
Some proabortionists will agree that life begins at conception. However, they argue that a fetus cannot survive on its own and that the "right to life" does not imply a right to use somebody else's body or threaten another person's life. In fact, many state laws allow abortion until a fetus is deemed viable outside the womb (within the range of 24-26 weeks); some even allow abortion for an indefinite period of time.
Just because a fetus cannot survive without its mother doesn't make it any less human. In Recall Abortion, a doctor who previously performed abortions provides testimony about how a fetus at 8-9 weeks will fight back; it wants to live. We can argue that a fetus is a mass of cells that doesn't have a right to life, but it doesn't change the fact that the these cells are alive and will develop into a fully grown living, breathing human if we let it.
Brief Overview of the First Stages of Fetal Development (from Mayo Clinic)
- Week 3-4: fertilization and implantation
- Week 5: brain, spinal cord, heart, and other organs begin to form
- Week 6: the heart is pumping blood and basic facial features begin to appear
- Weeks 7-9: the head, arms, and toes develop
- Week 11: The genitals develop
- ... Week 24-26 (when many states still allow abortions): The baby grows to ~18", the brain is growing quickly, taste buds and lungs are developing (the baby begins to practice breathing motions), the baby is putting on baby fat and starting to show signs of hair. By 26 weeks, the baby may start to hear the parents' voices. (See Baby Center for more info.)
We should never ask ourselves "when is it okay to kill an unborn child?" When we ask ourselves "how far is too far," we've already cross the line. We are no longer searching for moral truth but searching for loopholes. We're trying to justify something we want to do instead of basing our decisions on a truth. As Dr. John Haas says, "If you make a list of exceptions, where does it stop? There's no logical place to draw that line" (Recall Abortion).
Philosopher and atheist Peter Singer recognized the same truth as Dr. Haas. In fact, Singer used followed this logical path to argue in favor of infanticide (on the basis that newborns have not had the chance to learn about our world, he said that a newborn should not be considered a person until thirty days after its birth) and eugenics (he believed physicians should kill babies with disabilities as soon as they are born). In fact, while he stopped at thirty days, Singer recognizes that, if we support the murder of a child within the womb, there is no stopping us from killing a human at any stage of life (that includes a teenager, a mature adult, and the elderly).
#2 Abortion is a Woman's Issue
In recent years, we've made abortion out to be a woman's issue on the basis of "it's my body; my choice." We take the rest of the family, including the father and baby, out of the equation. And yet, we're so quick to ignore situations where the father or family members pressure the woman to abort her unborn child. The reality is that abortion affects more than the mother; we cannot compartmentalize the issue to the mother and child alone.
First, there's a logical fallacy to a man claiming that abortion is a woman's issue. By making that claim, you're involving yourself in the argument (through the stance that the woman should decide whether the baby lives or dies). Second, going further back to the baby's origins, it takes an egg and a sperm for a baby to be conceived. A woman cannot conceive a child on her own. Third, the baby is also a human, and his or her life is also at stake here. (And, as the results of the the first point have shown, the baby does have a life.) Therefore, abortion is not only a woman's issue, a father's issue, or the family's issue but also a basic human rights issue in that it violates the baby's right to life.
I'm sure there are questions on rape cases, the value of the woman's life, and the value of the baby's life. Those will be addressed later in this post to a certain degree and elaborated upon more in followup posts. The primary concern of this point is to illustrate that abortion is not a woman's issue alone.
#3 Abortion is a Health Issue
Many proabortionists claim that abortion protects women's health and reproductive rights.
Abortion is not a health issue. Abortion is the act of terminating a pregnancy with the intention to kill the unborn child. There may be health issues and other complications associated with pregnancy, and abortion may influence these issues. However, in and of itself, abortion does not cure any illnesses. The problem with labeling abortion as a health issue is that it treat pregnancy as a sickness when pregnancy is a natural part of life. The result is that we have developed the mentality that the unborn child is a tumor, an alien that has invaded the woman's body forcefully and against her will when the baby didn't have a choice in the matter. (I certainly wouldn't choose to be conceived by parents who don't want me much less parents who see me as an interruption to their lives.) New life has become something that is feared, not celebrated . . . at least, not when its an inconvenience.
The act of abortion contradicts the purpose of health care as expressed in the Hippocratic Oath: "I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone." Health care is intended to be for the good of the patients, but abortion kills. In the event that the mother does have health complications, there are ways for the doctor to treat the mother with consideration of the well-being of her child. The child may die in both situations, but there is a difference between intentionally killing the child and losing the child while treating the mother's health. The latter gives the child a chance at life.
Similarly, the claim that abortion protects reproductive rights is misleading. Abortion does not help us reproduce; it helps us kill our unborn children. It may not seem fair, but the reality is that, when we have sex, a child may result from that union. We tend to focus on the woman because she carries the child, but it also takes a man for a child to be conceived. Both the man and the woman need to live with the reality and take responsibility for the fact that they may conceive a child—even if they use contraceptives.
A quick address on contraceptives: I recognize that abortion is not the first step; many couples use contraceptives first. While I do have a problem with contraceptives that have the potential to harm life (the big one being the pill, which has emergency measures built in to prevent implantation of the zygote), I am not opposed to contraceptives that do not harm the unborn child in the event of conception; natural family planning is another option that allows couples to minimize the chances of conceiving a child. The problem with contraceptives is that the mentality of many individuals nowadays is "contraceptives = no baby," so the logical next step (when a baby is conceived) is to get an abortion. Alongside of contraceptive use, we need to prepare couples for the possibility of a child and provide guidance on how to plan for a child in the event that one is conceived.
#4 Abortion Protects Women
Some of the arguments on how abortion protects women include: it protects women's health and reproductive rights (see #3), it empowers women sexually, and it lets women have children at the "right" time (see #5 below).
The question now to consider is: why do women seek abortions? Why do they believe they need an abortion?
Many women seek an abortion because they are scared of how others will view them. Because they have been trained to believe there is a time when they are allowed to have a child and a time when they are not allowed to have a child. Because they're taught to desire sex and wait for children. Because they have been taught that a child will inhibit them from living the life they are trained to covet (see #7). Imagine how much more freedom we would have as women if we stopped seeing motherhood as a limitation. If we can have sex and not fear pregnancy but embrace it when we conceive a child (even if a child is outside of our immediate expectations—see #6).
Women may also seek an abortion because they are pressured to do so by family members and / or the man who impregnated her. They may argue that the mother cannot afford a child; the man may even force the mother to choose between him and the baby. Driven into a corner, the mother may convince herself that it is in her and the baby's best interest to kill the baby. Instead of pressuring the mother to seek the death of her baby, why not celebrate the new life and empower her to nurture the life inside of her? I have students who are continuing their studies while pregnant (in a low-income neighborhood, so their financial situations are not optimal); they have plans to go get their bachelor's degree and lead successful careers. It is entirely possible to keep your child and joyfully anticipate your child's birth if the people around you support you and encourage you.
In the end, abortion empowers everyone but the mother and her child.
Many abortion clinics don't offer the mother the chance to rethink her choice when she expresses doubts (or even vocally asserts that she has changed her mind). They may even pressure her to continue with the abortion once she's in the clinic or continue with the abortion against her will. You can read women's testimonies to this point on sites such as Silent No More Awareness and Rachel's Vineyard (and in the book Recall Abortion). If abortion really is a women's issue and if it really seeks to empower women, shouldn't we listen to them instead of dismissing their stories as pro-life propaganda and trying to silence their voices?
How about arguments that a woman should not be forced to carry a child?
Not all women have sex expecting to have a child. After all, we have something called a contraceptive. As I mentioned in #3, we need to understand and accept that using contraceptives is not a 100% guarantee that a women will not become pregnant. We also need to get out of the mindset that a child is a burden to be feared. One of the greatest miracles on earth is that of life; we should cherish life instead of rejecting it. Again, though she carries the unborn baby, it is not the woman alone who has her child. The man too must learn to accept responsibility for the child. And if he fails to support the woman and his child, then the community should step in. (We also need to consider why the man isn't taking responsibility: what need needs to change?) Instead of shaming the parents, we should celebrate the new life and support them.
What if a woman is raped? Can we still force her to carry the child to term? Hasn't she suffered enough trauma from the rape?
This was a difficult question for me to answer when I was reconsidering my beliefs on abortion. (I do not believe exceptions can be made when it comes to killing an unborn child.) In the end, I believe it comes down to logical reasoning, basic human rights, and respect for life.
One trauma cannot erase or lessen a past trauma. One sin cannot erase or heal another. One act of violence should not be followed by another act of violence. Do not punish the baby for the crimes of his or her father. As explained in #1, the unborn baby is alive. Just because the baby is dependent on the mother for life does not mean that the mother—much less those around her—have the "right" to take away the baby's chance at life. It may be hard to accept, but there is healing to be found in nurturing new life after a traumatic incident provided that we are open to that healing. There have been cases of rape survivors finding such grace in their child. If the mother really cannot care for her child, adoption is a real option. She can carry her child to a stage where the child will be viable and put the child up for adoption after the birth. Again, the baby should not be punished for the crimes of his or her father.
It is a myth to believe that life will return to normal after an abortion. Killing the child will not make life any easier for a woman whether or not she was raped.
What's interesting is that rape laws make it much easier for a woman to abort her child than to keep her child. Courts are much more likely to provide the new mother with the financial means to abort her baby; few will support her in the event that she decides to keep the child. The rapist's lawyers may agree to drop the court case if the woman aborts her child, and only one state mandates judges to drop the rapist's parental rights altogether. This means that a rape survivor who wants to keep her child may be forced to share her child with her rapist.
#5 Abortion Protects Children
As I addressed in points #1-2, abortion does not protect children but in fact violates their basic human right to life. Proabortionists claim that abortion does protect children by letting women have children when they are ready for a child. The argument here is that the woman may not have the right financial situation or mental readiness to have a child; the child might even be born into an abusive family or one in which drugs and alcohol are a pervasive problem. Essentially, the argument is that a child can have a better quality of life when the mother is ready to have her child.
We can never be fully ready to have a child. No matter how "right" the moment seems to be, unforeseen circumstances will come up. A hail storm might wreck your car, the house will need repairs, someone may get sick . . . most of all, your child will grow. Life changes when you bring a child home, and with each stage of life, your child will develop new needs. If you have another child, that child will add a new dynamic to the family. Sure, there will be times that it is more convenient to have a child (such as when you have greater financial stability), but convenience does not justify killing your unborn child. If you really seek to protect your child, then give your child a chance at life; this may involve relying on other relatives to care for the child until you attain more stability, or it may involve putting your child up for adoption (there are varying degrees of openness available).
Life is possible away from one's birth parents. At some point in life, many of us seek to begin a new stage of life away from our parents (traditionally, starting from college, though the timing can vary depending on our situation). Yes, a child may go through challenges away from his or her parents; it can be scary relying on strangers to raise our children. However, there is a difference between giving our children a chance at life and giving up on their future before they can live it. The same can be said for children born with disabilities (even those that may not live for more than an hour after birth). Recall Abortion includes testimonies of parents who found grace and healing in spending those precious few hours with their children who died shortly after birth.
#6 You Will Regret Choosing Children Over Your Dreams
Throughout this post of myth busting, a consistent theme has emerged. Many of our culture's beliefs on abortion have been shaped by our mentality, specifically our mentality on what the "perfect" woman's life looks like. That image is of the college-graduate career woman, a complete reversal of what the traditional woman's life has been. We have taught women that they cannot have both and that a baby will ruin her dreams. That she will no longer be living for herself after she has a baby. In the process, we have shamed women who choose to embrace motherhood. We lament their "lost dreams" instead of celebrating the new beginning that they have chosen.
How can we claim to support women's rights when we do not support women who want to have their baby?
Instead of viewing children as a burden, let's challenge ourselves to consider them a new beginning. Instead of viewing children as an interruption, let's embrace a new dream that includes our children.
We do not need to compromise. We do not need to choose one or the other. Things will change, but we can do both. Sarah Brown is an example of a high-profile woman who chose to keep both her child and her dreams. Many writers have chosen to describe her with the words "failed to fulfill her Olympic dream." What I see is a woman who understood that her chances of going to Rio were slimmer but chose to pursue a new beginning with her child alongside of her original goal of making the Olympics. There will be more Olympics to come; this was her only chance to welcome her daughter Abigail into this world.
#7 Abortion Does Not Discriminate
Ultimately, anyone who speaks in favor of abortion does not believe that all human beings deserve equal human rights, much less women. (How can they when the unborn child they're terminating may be a baby girl? Approximately 50% of children are female.) Still others say that unborn children with certain conditions that give them a severe disadvantage in life should be terminated. In making such claims, people judge the value of a single human life against those of others. They discriminate.
Abortion is not an answer to any of our problems. It is a symptom that points to a larger question: how far are we willing to go to "protect" our individual "rights"? If we are willing to kill our unborn babies, what's to stop us from killing a grown person who has no relation to us? What's to stop eugenics from becoming even more of a reality? What's to stop us from playing God with the lives of our children? If it's the law, then the law needs to change its stance on abortion.
Because legalizing abortion and making abortion more readily available will only encourage more people to have abortions. Because legalizing abortion and making abortion more readily available has taught our women (and men) that it is morally right to kill our unborn babies. (Why else would it be legal?) Because abortion gives us the easy way out of our responsibilities to the human lives that are most dependent on us.
In taking a stance against abortion, I do not attempt to devalue the woman's life or rights. I believe that we can agree that we have the women's best interests in mind. Instead of looking to abortion for an answer, let's fight for greater support of pregnant women. Let's listen to the stories of women who regret their abortions instead of trying to silence them, and let's also listen to the stories of women who validate their abortions. Through these testimonies, let's identify the larger issues that led these women to abortion clinics and work together to make them less of an issue.
Let's fight for laws that give the mother more options, more opportunities to take care of her child, so if finances or other circumstances are an issue, she feels more capable of caring for her child. Let's spread more awareness of different adoption options, so she can provide the degree of openness she desires with her child in the event that she truly cannot raise her child. Let's spread the knowledge of various medical practices that treat the women's health problems while giving the child as high a chance of life as possible. Let's fund research to improve those chances and make healthcare as safe as possible for both the mother and child. Let's work together to improve the quality of life for both the mother and the child.
Let's treat human life with the honor and respect it deserves.