This is a ‘hot button’ issue, right? There are ebbs and flows in the cultural consciousness on abortion. It comes to mind and then it represses. Not long ago it came to mind because of the Center for Medical Progress and it’s exposé of videos describing the procuring of fetal tissue from abortions. August 22nd , 2015 was an organized protest at Planned Parenthood grounds in 342 locations across the country with people totaling around 62,000. Remarkably, in St. Paul, MN there was one of the largest crowds with reports estimating between 4,000 and 6,000 attendees. Again in St. Paul on January 21st, 2017 there was an organized protest rallying on behalf of women. This time turnout in St. Paul was as many as 100,000 by some news reports however in this march not all females were represented. Half the unborn that are terminated are of the female sex.
Let’s discuss the emotions resonating on this subject because they always surface, they’re always deeply felt and we are after all a feeling creature as well as a thinking creature.
Being female biologically and socially is a suffering lot!
A pregnancy is a burden. That’s how many if not most women feel and they’re not wrong. Our body is going to change uncomfortably; our life is going to change uncomfortably. We are taken hostage by an organism that perhaps was unwanted. We may feel resentment towards our predicament and the baby. We may feel exhausted, depressed, deprived, defeated. We may feel unfairly saddled. We did not ask to be born with female biology and pregnancy is not all we amount to. Especially when we did not plan on becoming pregnant. We may have no maternal drive. If she is single, she is really suffering. She will probably feel alone and unprepared. How scary to foster a life with no help from the father. To go through the agonizing ordeal of childbirth, changing diapers, potty training, the all out war, sometimes, of teenage years not to mention scraping by for food, shelter and money. Scraping by for sanity. It’s revolting how indifferent many men are to abandoning their children and I can see how it would leave a woman feeling furious. The situation of being pregnant with no father has to be one of the most alienating and devastating feelings a woman can feel. It’s violating.
Then there are the thoughts. Why me? Millions of men have casual sex and are not left with the burden of pregnancy and often not saddled with the responsibility of raising the child. Many women have a normal sex life and don’t end up pregnant on the first time without birth control or the time birth control failed. I don’t want and shouldn’t have to. Period. These thoughts and feelings are legitimate. It’s automatic to turn a deaf ear to people who disregard these truths. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge that some pregnancies are crises. In fact, at least 890,000* pregnancies in the US are crises. That is approximately how many abortions occur in this country a year.
There is another crisis for females, the 445,000 whose lives are taken every year in this country because of abortion. This is a truth as well. Since I’m a feminist I find this truth to be pretty sobering. It’s easy to think of an embryo or a fetus as a clump of biological tissue that’s simply dividing and not living or living but not a person. It’s easy because it allows abortion. The cognitive dissonance that takes place knowing abortion is legal but that it’s a human baby being aborted is just too hard to take, it must be wrong. So we excuse it. Then you get to be 34 years old, in my case, and you think about human life and how much more life you want to live (130 years old? Yes please!). My heart feels heavy for these people that didn’t get to live. How blessed that I get to live and suffer and love. My mother chose what was going to be upsettingly hard and I got to have a life.
I have a fond client at work that revealed to me that she is the product of a rape. Her mother was raped while living with a family friend when she was just a teenager and became pregnant. That baby is my client who has since had a family of 5 who have since had their own children. She married and they’ve been married 50 years. I’m sure she has suffered in life and her mother absolutely suffered but my client got to live and I’m glad I got know her.
A little background about me: I used to be pro-choice and not the decent pro-choicer that says “I’m pro-choice but I would never personally have an abortion.” Nope, I was indignant that it’s my sovereign body and I can do with it what I please and if I became pregnant I would have one. A libertarian, maybe even anarchist, feminist. However, there was always a feeling that it would be gravely wrong if I did. It wasn’t until about 22 years old when I put intellectual thought into it that I started to see the issue clearly. Abortion is many heady things but ultimately it is the taking of another person’s life and how can I be complicit in that if I expect to keep my own sovereign life?
I’ve belonged to different debate groups on various political and religious topics and I’ve been following one on abortion recently and the vitriol I see in there is astonishing. Often I’m amazed. Mostly I’m sickened. I’ve always wanted to compile arguments on the topic but it’s so heavy I’ve never gotten around to publishing one. Actually, the topic of abortion is so polarized that it’s been too daunting and I haven’t had the courage or the perseverance. But here goes. This has taken a long time (5 years I’ve been working on this) and lots and lots of research but these are the most cogent responses to pro-choice arguments I’ve heard. I myself have learned a lot about embryology. The science is amazing!
*this is an average, see below arguments for the most recent CDC estimates of abortions performed
Abortion is legal and that’s why it’s ok
A parallel can be drawn here from the abolitionist movement of the 19th century. The abolitionists were opposing the rule of law underlined by the Supreme Court in its Dred Scott opinion that people of African descent, whether free or slave, are not considered part of the American people. They are property of their owners, no more than that. Now we see prolifers, who are aware that the Supreme Court has erred before, opposing the rule of law in the decision of Roe which states that the unborn have never been recognized as persons in the whole sense just as slaves were thought of as 3/5 of a person and not whole persons. So, like the slave, the fetus is property and the owner can dispose of it. Like the abolitionists of the 19th century the prolife movement is involved in a massive civil rights movement. After all, since the Roe decision, 43 years ago, in the US roughly 40 million unborn babies have been terminated. Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, 40 million are terminated each year. Worldwide, unborn girls are terminated at higher rates than unborn boys with roughly 163 million girls that have been aborted since 1973. Thus the prolife effort is a womens movement and a civil rights movement.
As history proves the law is not always aligned with what’s right.
The basis of the Bodily autonomy argument is ‘women have the final jurisdiction over their own bodies. Nobody can claim a right to her body that goes above her own right. Nobody can use her body without consent. Women cannot be forced to donate organs or blood to someone else. A fetus must survive on a woman’s body so the woman has a right to withdraw her consent and her body at any time.’
Follow this thought all the way through. Women have ‘final jurisdiction over their bodies’. Then society would have to be accepting of women who do drugs, drink alcohol, go tanning, go skydiving at 6 months pregnant. It also follows that one must support abortion at any stage if one supports the bodily autonomy argument. How is a woman’s body any less autonomous at 8 months pregnant than 6 weeks pregnant?
Also, why would bodily autonomy only apply to pregnant women? Children have demands on the mother’s body even after birth. Whether it’s waking up in the middle of the night for the crying baby and nursing, working long hours to pay for their food and clothing, carrying them around when they cannot walk, etc. An argument for absolute bodily autonomy means that it can’t be illegal, or considered immoral, for a parent to withdraw from providing these things for the child.
If we can do what we want with our bodies then it becomes difficult to launch a moral or legal attack on a man that chooses to pleasure himself at a playground. According to the argument he has bodily autonomy.
Truth is our bodies are not absolutely autonomous. Any claim or responsibility placed on me, automatically includes a claim and responsibility on my body. Whether we are expected to pay taxes or drive the speed limit or provide a safe and sanitary home for our children, we are using our bodies to meet these expectations. We experience and participate in life with our bodies. Absolute bodily autonomy is inexorably linked with personal autonomy. If my body is absolutely autonomous, my person must be absolutely autonomous, and if my person is absolutely autonomous, then my very existence is absolutely autonomous, and if my very existence is absolutely autonomous, then it is simply unacceptable and immoral for anyone to expect me to do anything for anyone at any point for any reason.
Truth is our bodies are autonomous in some situations and not in others. We must decide where abortion falls in our classifications of protection against bodily autonomy and why it belongs there. If you contend that abortion falls within the limits on bodily autonomy, that you should be legally allowed to abort the life, you must justify that belief beyond simply reasserting our right to bodily autonomy. What is at stake in abortion is the mother’s lifestyle vs. the baby’s life.
The embryo/fetus is a parasite
The basis of the parasite argument is that a parasite feeds off the host just as a zygote, embryo or fetus, depending on its stage of development, feeds off the mother.
This argument is flawed because it is not scientifically correct. A parasite is an organism of one species feeding off the body of a completely different species. A human embryo or fetus is an organism of one species (Homo sapiens) living in the uterine cavity of an organism of the same species (Homo sapiens) and deriving its nourishment from the mother (is metabolically dependent on the mother). This homospecific relationship is an obligatory dependent relationship, but not a parasitic relationship.
A parasite is an invading organism — coming to parasitize the host from an outside source. A human embryo or fetus is formed from a fertilized egg — the egg coming from an inside source, being formed in the ovary of the mother from where it moves into the oviduct where it may be fertilized to form the zygote — the first cell of the new human being. A parasite is generally harmful to some degree to the host that is harboring the parasite. A human embryo or fetus developing in the uterine cavity does not usually cause harm to the mother, although it may if proper nutrition and care is not maintained by the mother.
A parasite makes direct contact with the host’s tissues, often holding on by either mouth parts, hooks or suckers to the tissues involved (intestinal lining, lungs, connective tissue, etc.). A human embryo or fetus makes direct contact with the uterine lining of the mother for only a short period of time. It soon becomes isolated inside its own amniotic sac, and from that point on makes indirect contact with the mother only by way of the umbilical cord and placenta.
Therefore a parasite is an organism that associates with the host in a negative, unhealthy and nonessential (nonessential to the host) manner, which will often damage the host and detrimentally affect the procreative capacity of the host (and species). A human embryo or fetus is a human being that associates with the mother in a positive, healthful essential manner necessary for the procreation of the species.
If abortion should be illegal then miscarriage should be illegal
The basis of this argument is that just as abortion is the termination and cleansing of the embryo or fetus from the womb so too is miscarriage.
Miscarriage is an act of nature. Abortion is the deliberate termination by a human being of another’s life. Just as it is absurd to have laws that make trees falling down in forests because of lightening strike illegal so too would it be absurd to make an act of nature, miscarriage, illegal.
The fertilized egg is not a human until it implants on the uterine wall
This is easily exposed as a non sequitur — a logical fallacy, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The fact that many human embryos die at an early stage of development (pre-implantation) provides no evidence whatsoever for the proposition that they are not embryonic human beings — no more than comparable high rates of infant mortality in most places before the 20th century showed that infants were not human beings.
From the zygote- single-celled- stage onward this new organism is distinct, for it grows in its own direction. It is human — obviously, given the genetic structure found in the nuclei of its cells. And it is a whole human organism — as opposed to what is functionally a part of a larger whole, such as a cell, tissue, or organ — since this organism has all of the internal resources and active disposition needed to develop itself (himself or herself) to the mature, adult, stage of a human organism. Given its genetic constitution and epigenetic* structure, all this organism needs to develop to the mature stage is what human beings at any stage need, namely, a suitable environment, nutrition, and the absence of injury or disease. So it is a whole human organism — a new human individual — at the earliest stage of his or her development.
Clearly, implantation — the embryo attaching himself or herself (sex is determined from the very beginning) to the uterine wall of the mother’s womb — is only an important stage in the life cycle of the already living and internally self-directed growth of a human being. This stage does not create any fundamental change in the direction of growth of the embryo. From Day One, the embryo has been preparing for this interaction. The uterus provides a suitable environment, nutrition, and disposal of waste, but not a new program or instructions for a new trajectory of growth — the instructions for his or her full self-development to the mature stage of a human organism have been present within the embryo’s genetic and epigenetic constitution from the zygote stage (Day One) on.
*epigenetic means changes in a chromosome that affect gene activity and expression
The fertilized egg is not a life it’s just a cluster of cells
Human embryos, whether they are formed by fertilization (natural or in vitro) or by successful somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT — i.e., cloning), do have the internal resources and active disposition to develop themselves to the mature stage of a human organism, requiring only a suitable environment and nutrition. In fact, scientists distinguish embryos from other cells or clusters of cells precisely by their self-directed, integral functioning — their organismal behavior. Thus, human embryos are what the embryology textbooks say they are, namely, human organisms — living individuals of the human species — at the earliest developmental stage. In other words they are alive at the moment of conception.
Ok, so the embryo or fetus is a life, it is a human being, but it’s not a person
There is the concession that all “persons” are “human beings,” but they would deny the reverse of that proposition, namely, that all “human beings” are “persons.” Approaching this question from the most neutral starting-point possible, one would be compelled to inquire: “What is a human being?” Notice that the focus of this question is the broadest one possible, the neutral and impersonal pronoun “what.”
The most common answer that one could receive to this question–and indeed the most logical answer–would be that a human being is one who is a being (i.e., one who is in existence) and one who is a member of the human species.
With this answer the inquiry has logically and inescapably progressed to the personal pronoun “who.”
Under this process of analysis, which is certainly neither an a priori sort of reasoning from some preconceived conclusion or assumption nor “a leading question” (that is, a question suggesting the desired answer), we nonetheless end up inescapably at the conclusion that the “who” of the human being is a “person.”
Accordingly, from the standpoint of language and logical analysis, the legal separation of “human being” from “person” is artificial and arbitrary, and certainly not rooted in language, logic, or common understanding, nor in medicine, law, or history.
When a ‘human person’ begins to exist is a philosophical issue. By contrast, when a ‘human being’ begins to exist is a scientific issue. Accurate science should be the starting point for resolving the philosophical question, not the reverse.
Personhood is properly defined by membership in the human species, not by stage of development within that species. Personhood is not a matter of size, skill, and degree of intelligence or viability outside the womb. Viability is an arbitrary concept as its timeline is in constant change depending on technology. Even a newborn healthy baby would not be viable were it not for the assistance of the mother for nourishment, changing of the diaper, providing shelter, etc. It is dangerous when people in power are free to decide whether other, less powerful lives are meaningful as we have seen in three generations of cases: Scott v. Sanford [denying rights to slaves], Buck v. Bell [denying rights to intellectually disabled people], and now a third at Roe v. Wade [denying rights to unborn children].
All of mankind is a what (human being) and a who (person) no matter stage of development. Therefore every member of the human family is entitled to the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of the law.
The fertilized egg is alive and a human being but it should have no legal protection until it’s viable
As shown above viability is a flimsy argument at best. The definition of viability is a. capable of living, b. capable of functioning or developing, c. capable of existing successfully. Every human being cannot live in the universe without help. Man is a very unviable creature in the universe. We need shelter and clothing from the heat or cold, we need replenishment of food and water that we must seek out. Nature is constantly working to terminate us. Whether it’s the elements or bacterial infection or viruses or disease we have to fight to stay alive. Contrary to post womb life a baby in the womb has the coziest life-nourishing environment in which all necessities are adequately provided with no self conscious effort at all on the baby’s part. So I would argue that born human beings are less viable than unborn human beings because the unborn need an interruption to die and the born need an interruption to live.
A woman has a right to constitutional privacy
In the vein of this argument is this example: the US constitution sanctioned the denial of personhood status to slaves for the first several decades of this country’s existence. This fact served as an argument to amend the Constitution, not as an argument for the moral permissibility of slavery.
When Roe v. Wade was being decided it was assumed that the substantive due process clause protected a woman’s right to the liberty of terminating her pregnancy within the privacy of the relationship between her and her doctor. However, when deciding in this case, there was no right to privacy in the constitution whatsoever. Moreover privacy is negated when it directly affects the life of a third party (the unborn baby).
Whether or not the unborn child, too, has protection of life, liberty and pursuit of property, which is what the 14th amendment is all about, begs the central question. This question is the personhood of the fetus (the 14th Amendment grants persons an explicit right not to be killed unless convicted of a capital crime). Even Justice Blackmun, who delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court, admitted as much. Let’s suppose for sake of argument that the Court, as it claimed, had no standard for defining the beginning of personhood. Logically, if you don’t know if something that you wish to take the life of is a person do you not err on the side of not taking its life? How about this illustration: if there were one hundred pills on a table and one of them was deadly poison but you didn’t know which one, would you take a pill because you don’t know for sure which one is poison? You would not. You would err on the side of safety for the human life -yours- and you would take none. Rather, in one fell swoop that left legal scholars from across the spectrum of jurisprudence baffled, the court overturned the popularly imposed laws in the vast majority of states because it couldn’t decide whether or not it ought to.
The feminist argument
The basis of this argument is that abortion rights are fundamental to the advancement of women. They are essential to having equal rights with men.
In reality early feminists were prolife, not pro-choice. Women’s rights are not inherently linked to the right to abortion. Actually the basic premises of the abortion rights movement are demeaning to women because they presume a pregnant woman doesn’t have the psychological, emotional, financial, physical, intellectual means to support the life they, except in the case of rape, which is 1% of abortions, helped create. Feminists should celebrate a woman’s inherent biology to produce children. In fact, abortion has become the most effective means of sexism ever devised, ridding the world of multitudes of unwanted females. The statistics reported between the Guttmacher Institute and the CDC estimate between 730,000 and 1.06 million abortions occurred in the year 2011 (the most recent year the CDC has produced figures) in the US, although reporting is voluntary and not required which means it could be more. That places the taking of female lives between 365,000 to 530,000 a year just in the US. Female abortion deaths worldwide are 21.5 million.
Consent to sex is not consent to gestate
A Daily Kos writer put the argument this way:
Sex and pregnancy are not a one-to-one. Sex can and does happen when reproduction is not possible, and it is not guaranteed to lead to reproduction even when it is possible. An undesired development does not mean that you’re stuck following through, letting nature take its course. If I get behind the wheel on an icy day and my car starts sliding for the ditch, I’m not honor bound to crash if I can prevent it; consenting to drive doesn’t mean that I’m consenting to crash. Why does it follow that conception through consensual intercourse necessitates gestation and motherhood? Our species has no problem correcting non-optimal outcomes when possible. We set broken legs. We perform surgeries. We treat cancers and diseases. We terminate unwanted pregnancies.
This analogy is flawed. If your car is veering towards the ditch on an icy day you are not duty bound to let it slide into the ditch (which would presumably be a negative outcome for you). But if you veer your car purposely toward another car so as to take the driver’s life you will be prosecuted because willfully taking the life of another person is morally and legally reprehensible. It is only in the early stages of life (prenatal) that the SCOTUS has deemed taking a life legal, though it is still immoral. The central point to the argument is another’s life. That’s what’s missing from the icy day analogy or even the surgery, cancer, disease part of it. None of those scenarios are another life of our same species.
Reproduction is not always the outcome from sex. This is true. But reproduction is the natural development from sex when it does occur. Denying that is insane. Our Western society has become increasingly deluded when it comes to the natural process at work with sex. We’ve taken the natural end out of the means. Just as we think we can cheat death, we think we can cheat life. We truly believe sex should have nothing to do with procreation. It’s really self-loathing. Are we trying to wipe out our species? Nature does not care what you consent to. I do not consent to die but I will die. Death is the natural end to the means just as with sex a baby is the natural end to the means. However, unlike natural death, which will take your life no matter your actions, one truly does have a choice with birth. One can choose to abstain from the act that creates the action they don’t like. But if one chooses to have sex they’re taking the gamble of creating another life. Rather than ‘gamble’ I would call it responsibility. Through sex there will always be the chance of taking responsibility for another’s life. Sure, it makes sex more sober. It is only in the West that sex has been mutated into a purposeful means without an end. A willful impotency. You tell me what’s more sober.
Pro-life arguments are the imposition of religion on a woman’s rights
This argument is based on the misnomer that the subject of abortion is women’s rights rather than an unwanted baby being aborted. Just as there are religious people who support the right of the unborn to live so are there secular people. The United States (and many other countries) has a constitution with the most basic value set to law that protects the unalienable right to life. It is natural to protect life. It advances the species. Many say it’s God-given, some say it’s nature-given but few deny it. I have a right to live just as much as you have the right to live, this we all* agree on. Ironically, the 14th amendment is all about this right even though the SCOTUS subverted the meaning with regard to the unborn. The unalienable right to life is agreed upon by the irreligious just as much as by the religious. The question is does this right extend to the embryo/fetus? When people say ‘keep your church off my body’ it literally makes no intellectual sense. Because a) we’ve established that there are secular and religious people who support the right to life, b) the pro-life movement is not dictating what you do with your body, it is concerned with what you do to another’s body.
*except the insane and sadist
Abortion helps solve the problem of over-population
Overpopulation is one of the biggest fallacies in Western thought. It overlooks the nuances of civilization and just plain isn’t true. Urbanization explains one of the nuances. People naturally flock together which creates dense urban cities that can become over-populated but this leaves vast rural areas under-populated. The world currently produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, and there are only 7 billion of us. That is, with 7 billion human minds at work, we produce enough food for 10 billion human bodies. Imagine how much food we can produce with 10 billion minds! Oceans cover 70 percent of the planet’s surface to an average depth of 6,000 feet. You cannot use up or destroy water; you can only change its state (from liquid to solid or gas) or contaminate it so that it is undrinkable. What about fresh water? Freshwater withdrawals have increased seven-fold since 1900 while the world population has increased only four-fold. This suggests our ability to access usable water increases faster than population growth. But we’re growing exponentially! No, we’re not. Our rate of growth is slowing. Between 1950 and 2000, the world population grew at a rate of 1.76%. Between 2000 and 2050, it is expected to grow by 0.77%. About 48% of all people live in a country with below-replacement fertility meaning there are not births replacing deaths. Every man, woman, and child on earth could each have 5 acres of land. If we wanted to squeeze close, everyone in the world could stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the island of Zanzibar.
Furthermore, who gets to decide who lives or dies for the noble cause of population control? Perhaps those who are the most concerned should take the martyrs position for their cause and take their own life rather than asserting their personal hierarchy and condemning the just-starting-out lives to death.
The unwanted unborn would have no quality of life.
Again, why should someone else get to decide what is considered quality life for a person and which lives are expendable and which are not? Which lives are superior and which are inferior? If you were just thinking mathematically would it be better to have a little life or no life? Would it be better to have a hard life but still a chance or no life? Think if it was you? Either way, the judgment about the quality of someone else’s life is not yours to make.
The Chimera argument
A natural human chimera explains a few different anomalies. The most common kind of chimera is a blood chimera in which twins in utero share blood supplies and DNA through connecting placentas and in turn have cells from the twin sibling in each of their bodies or a mother and fetus could share cells resulting in ‘populations of DNA’: one set of DNA may appear in the lungs and another set in the kidneys of the mother. Another type of chimera is the absorption of a fraternal twin in utero. This means that one embryo absorbs the sibling embryo and ends up having DNA of another person in their body (or, in other cases, another person’s body parts or a calcified body). Legal cases have been brought forth, in which a mother did not share DNA with her children because the DNA cells that transferred to her children were that of her absorbed fraternal twin. This puts into question the irrefutability of DNA testing and also has political implications when defining when life begins. It also begs the question: is the stronger twin committing homicide when it absorbs its living fraternal twin?
Just like a miscarriage, which occurs naturally, so too does the anomaly of the Chimera.
As science already knows a new and separate human life begins at conception. A full DNA set in a human body has 46 chromosomes. A sperm has 23 and an ovum has 23 chromosomes. Upon fertilization, immediately, a cell with 46 chromosomes is created and an individual human life has begun.
Of course what’s happening here in the case of a human chimera is that an embryo absorbs the living embryo of its sibling and does so impulsively, naturally and without any deliberate intent. In other words it’s accidental, an anomaly. Regardless of the anomaly of absorption and harboring populations of another person’s DNA the embryo is still a self directed, individual human being. The organism is still human and alive and inherently worthy of protection. When a woman has an abortion she has the sentient capability of making the choice to do it or not with the deliberate intent of terminating another’s life.
2 thoughts on “Abortion: what’s life got to do with it?”
This is brilliant, Ms. Gallagher!
Exceptionally well-thought-out with a firm conclusion that pro-life is the only answer that’s right in all dimensions. My only suggestion with respect to the argument: “The fetus is my own body,” is that it is not scientifically correct. The fetus is a unique human being, yet unborn, but with a DNA code different from the mother. It is NOT her body.
It is another human being meant to be, just like us. Please give those million lost bodies and souls the same chance to live that we had.
Good suggestion since that is the most prolific one! Thank you sir.