(or) The underlying issue of the “pro-choice” movement.
“These concerns (for orphan children in India and elsewhere in the world) are very good, but often these same people are not concerned with the millions that are killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today, Abortion…For the pregnant women who don’t want their children, give them to me.”
Outwardly endless and stationary controversy around the abortion question accompanies us ever since we discovered we are able to perform this operation. Many arguments were invented that were supposed to resolve this conflict once and for all; nonetheless even today none of them achieved what it has aimed for. Was this effort then worthless? In this paper I will unravel several of the usual arguments that came up over time, and while still pointing out the rational issues of the pro-choice movement my primary goal is to implicitly expose their driving motives that step by step became more and more evident.
Only about 40 years ago a concept of abortion was spotted among general public and started to march its way on the top of currently discussed topics, being the second most common surgical procedure in the U.S. Even though abortion was in some form always present it was never so common and widespread as it is today; besides when it appeared it was mainly considered being a crime, for it was inconceivable to willfully kill one’s own child. However there were cultures such as Greeks and their notable Spartans who favored election of their little ones, according to their predispositions to be strong men and warriors. If they did not fit the required parameters they were doomed to a place called “Apothetae” by elders of the society where they were abandoned and left to die. The basic idea behind it was suggesting that it was better both for the child and the society not to proceed in upbringing of a child which is right from the start poor in health and strength.
Definition of abortion
Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary clearly speaks about abortion like this: Abortion is “the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus”. What I found interesting was that right after this first wording a second, quite short and expressive version was offered – “Monstrosity”.
Likewise the dictionary further indicates there are two essential variants for abortion:
- Spontaneous abortion(unintended)
- Fertilized egg never settles in the uterus, but simply goes through mother’s body in her monthly period.
- Fetus that is not yet viable is expelled from the body. This is also called Miscarriage. It occurs prevalently before the end of first trimester (13 weeks) and it is considered to be purely accidental (as opposed to –“induced”).
- Induced abortion is intended termination of pregnancy executed by one of the at present known specialized methods for aborting a fetus such as D&C, Suction, Saline injection, Hysterotomy, Prostaglandin, D&E or a Partial birth abortion(their detailed definition goes beyond scope of this paper). Generally three conditions under which induced abortion is performed are recognized.
- Therapeutic– Mothers life is endangered due medical difficulties. Consequently the fetus is aborted for the purpose of saving mother’s life.
- Eugenic – Fetus has a risk of physical or mental handicap (e.g. Down’s syndrome) which would severely influence his own quality of life and would bring a heavy strain on the other members of family as well.
- Elective – No inward hazard is present (mother & fetus are both healthy and no significant pregnancy problems arise); yet external decision determines whether abortion will come to pass or not based on convenience of a current situation (e.g. economic situation, age of parents, regulation of family size, mistiming…).
It all started by discovering the human ovum in 1820. In the same time solid laws regarding abortion were adopted. This means that only cases that met serious requirements were admitted to have an abortion. In 1973, by feminists exalted, case Roe v. Wade have secured abortion on demand for Supreme Court in US have given a green light to this new convenience of 20th century. Prior to this case only several states in America had reduced their requirements for abortion in order to make them more accessible for people, however this event had set about a wave of concessions that resulted in at the moment executing of 42 million of legitimate abortions worldwide every year. Interestingly, only 17% of all abortions now take place in developed countries, the rest is done in developing countries such as India or China.
The two camps
Ever since we began to hear about an opportunity to abort an embryo or a fetus we stood in front of a decision where we needed to decide whether such action would be a monstrous and immoral murder of an unborn infant or if it is merely utilizing the rights and possibilities our state and time have provided for us. Depending on the answer, two antagonistic groups emerged and are present until now. Those disapproving this alternative are called anti-abortionists, but prefer to be called “pro-life”, and those fully embracing this facility are called abortionists, but prefer to be called “pro-choice” movement. An unceasing debate between these groups develops in which new arguments and fresh perspectives are brought forth. In it both parties try to point the insensibility of the other group either in connection to a mother’s freedom of choice (pro-choice) or a person’s right to live (pro-life).
The issue of life
One of the first objections pro-choice movement came up with was pronouncing that a fetus in its first stage of pregnancy is not a true life, but merely a fusion of chemicals that is programmed to multiply in a certain way. Anyhow this argument sounds convincing the next immediate question that arises is: “When does the life begin then?”
Perhaps exactly the inverse side of this topic might offer some help. First, in order to properly depict the idea I will introduce some shortened facts about first trimester of fetal growth taken from “Ethics for a Brave new world” by Feinbergs & Huxley:
“Conception Father’s sperm penetrates mother’s egg cell. Genetic instructions from both parents interact to begin a new and unique individual who is no bigger than a grain of sugar.
Day 18 The heart is forming. Soon the eyes start to develop.
Day 20 The beginnings of the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system are laid.
Day 24 The heart begins to beat.
Day 43 Brain waves can be recorded.
(1 1/2 months)
8 Weeks The child is well-proportioned, a small-scale baby: 3 cm (1 1/8 inches) sitting up, and a gram (1/30 oz) in weight. Every organ is present. The heart beats sturdily; the stomach produces digestive juices; the liver makes blood cells; the kidneys begin to function; the taste buds are forming.
10 Weeks The body is sensitive to touch. The child squints, swallows, furrows his or her brow, and frowns.
12 Weeks The baby is capable of vigorous activity. He or she can kick, turn feet, curl and fan toes, make a fist, move thumbs, bend wrists, turn the head, open the mouth, and press the lips tightly together. Breathing has begun.
13 Weeks The baby is prettier, and the facial expression resembles the parents’. Movements are graceful, reflexes vigorous. The vocal cords are formed, although without air the baby cannot cry. The sex organs are apparent.
(End of the First Trimester)“
In the past death was determined by cessation of heart. Using the exact same parameter for determining life would mean that life unquestionably begins around 24th day of pregnancy. However contemporary measures for setting the time of death advanced to more reliable devices such as EEG. This is a medical device that is used to measure brain waves. No brain waves, means no life. Accordingly, occurrence of brain waves means life. This necessarily leads us to a conclusion that, in agreement with this system life, begins around the 43rd day of pregnancy.
Another criterion brought in was the concern for pain. Vehemently promoted abortion as a “medically painless procedure” puts up naturally two queries. On one side is a mother and on the other the fetus. The concern for mother stems from the character of methods used for abortion, yet the concern for child is not that much influenced by the method that is used, but rather by the central question whether it feels pain or not, for ultimately the goal is to end the life of the fetus or embryo. Three undisputable prerequisites for existence of pain are known:
- Functioning neurological structures to sense pain
- Apparent behavior expressive of pain
- A cause for pain
Now, going back to Feinberg’s & Huxley’s exposition of fetal growth we can see that at the week 10 the body is sensitive to touch, but already on day 20 the beginnings of nervous system is laid! Tests have been made that met the second prerequisite as well, using the needle as a cause for pain. Put together, it seems hard to believe abortion is completely painless procedure furthermore when substituting a poke with needle for crushing pliers, poisonous injection or some other terminating “painless” method.
Thirdly, moving even more to the future, DNA tests provide another base for drawing the line for a new life. A DNA chain of an embryo after conception is genetically different both from the sperm and the egg that merged 2 times 23 chromosomes into one 46 chromosome cell. Still even this one cell is unlike any other cell in mother’s body. Staggeringly, if person is born then the DNA of an embryonic stage is identical to its full-grown progression.
Preceding reasoning indicates that either beginning of a new life starts right at the conception or latest up to around the 43rd day of gestation which outlaws almost all abortions, for it takes in average more than one month until a woman becomes aware that she is de facto pregnant, plus a little more time till she chooses to undergo abortion. At this time not only a life should be present, but most likely fetus is moreover able to experience pain during the whole procedure, for nervous system had quite enough time to develop.
When addressing “the issue of life”, probably the most compelling argument there is speaks about the burden of proof. Even if I granted that all of the foregoing hypothesis were false, which I do not, the “burden of proof” says Kerby Anderson “should lie with the life-taker, and the benefit of the doubt should be with the life-saver.” If not, then applying this principle at the court would mean that an accused thief is firstly considered to be guilty of the crime until he proves his innocence. Is not this somewhat fallacious? Absolutely, this is not the case in any modern judiciary system. Hence the question is why is abortion an exception then? How is it possible that without any clear evidence on the side of life-takers one part of human population was simply denuded from their human rights? Only if clear evidence was offered or the acceptable reason for the absence of this evidence was given, only then abortion could have possibly been acknowledged as a legal medical procedure. Since neither was accomplished we should have proceeded as if there was a life inside of mother’s womb right from the moment of conception.
The issue of personhood
After more or less abandoned battle over beginning of life, pro-choice movement came up with a new, more powerful and certainly more relative perspective for authorization of abortion – the question around the nature of personhood. Today many abortionists would not deny the occurrence of life even in early stages of pregnancy; however they would claim that even though a new life is present it is not yet a person. This was also the ground upon which Roe won his case, still Harry Blackmun who was the justice proclaimed that “(If the) suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment. “. Thus the whole question revolves around the proper stipulation of personhood.
Since an effort to separate personhood from the beginning of life is made it is hard to speak henceforth about biological or scientific concern anymore, but now we have slided rather to a religious, philosophical or at best legal matter, which I suppose is a bit thin ice to work on. For now we stand in front of a task in determining when a human life begins to be rated as a sui juris member of human race.
Mary Anne Warren stipulated five central points in dealing with this task. According to her, criteria for personhood are met if an entity is capable of, or possess:
- Consciousness of things external and internal to oneself, and especially the ability to feel pain.
- Self-motivated activity, activity independent of genetic or external control.
- The ability to communicate with an indefinite number of contents and topics.
- Presence of self-concepts and self-awareness.
Also Virginia Ramsey Mollenkott had constituted her view on the basic elements of personhood. Francis Beckwith abbreviates them in a following line of arguments:
- A person can be defined as a living being with feelings, awareness, and interactive experience.
- An unborn entity does not possess the characteristics of a person as defined in Premise 1.
- (Intermediate Conclusion) Therefore, an unborn entity does not possess personhood.
- (Final Conclusion) Therefore, killing an unborn entity is not seriously wrong.
These criteria seem reasonable and the line of arguments might be bullet-proof, for no unborn child could possibly meet these requirements in their broader terms.
But on what foundation were these requirements made? It seems that an intuition, common sense or a personal opinion is perhaps the best answer we can get here, for when considering a number of other diverse demarcations for personhood a higher or a more credible surety is improbable. Even though one has a right to speak freely, these arbitrary and unsupported conclusions should not be taken seriously.
Secondly, how do we know which set of criteria is the correct one after all? Joseph Fletcher, Ashley Montagu, Michael Tooley or Rachel Maddow, all these people have in some way expressed what they think about the nature of personhood. Why should we prefer one set over another? There seem to be no adequate answer for these questions.
Thirdly, even if we go as far as arbitrarily stipulating some criterions and then randomly choosing one set over another it seems rather brainless to at this point still recklessly hold on to conditions that in their essence would permit also infanticide, euthanasia, abolition of hebetated elders or patients hit by the Alzheimer disease, eradicating those severely handicapped and surely many others as well. What do I mean? By taking in for instance Montagu’s criterion for personhood – “a newborn baby is not truly human until he or she is molded by cultural influences later.” we could also get away with killing infants. Then Fletcher said that “humans without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity are not persons, no matter how many of these organs are active, no matter how spontaneous their living processes are.” In other writings he defined minimum as “at least 40 IQ”. This would not only allow us to destroy infants, but also many autistic patients, plus it would endorse euthanasia. At last Warren’s condition number four would not only predestine for termination all those above, but in fact every human being that ever lived would be left out of the definition of personhood for none of us is able to speak about indefinite number of contents and topics.
The issue of rights
Throughout the history a completely different discussion expanded, in which the concentration was oriented on the conflict of rights. Since there are numerous of these conflicts where on one side stands the Right to Life (unborn child) and the other is variable, I will not engage in explaining each one of them. However I would suggest that particularly in the unique case of abortion, all the other rights must be submitted under the Right to Life.
The issue of utility
Statistics made by CDC and The Allan Guttmacher Institute in America show that only 1% of all abortions occur because of rape, 6% because of potential health problems and 93% for social reasons where children are either inconvenient, unwanted or mistimed (wanted but not at the present situation). While exact results may vary worldwide, we see that heavy majority considers abortion merely as a useful backup birth control. When looking into a research of economist Mr. Steven Levitt we can see that abortion is presumably beneficial also in a bigger picture. He co-authored a book “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” in which he speaks about a close connection of legalizing abortion in 1973 and the drop of criminal rate in America which was at that time uncontrollable, approximately 20 years after.
Pushing this even further, if we settle for killing life embryos that are real persons after firm Genetical and Biological view in sake of utility, morally we need to face problems of utilitarianism, that disqualify it from a valid ethical system.
In her latest book “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men” Mara Hvistendahl tries to show possible cataclysmic results that legalized abortions brought to undeveloped countries as India or China, where parents prefer boys over girls. The message of this book discovers outcomes of abortion in its broadest terms that are far away from useful as we perceived them before. But what is surprising, Hvistendahl is not against abortions as such only against those sex-selective. However besides the consequential arguments it is hard to find any other reasons that would clearly ban those sex-selective abortions but would not outlaw all the other elective abortions. This is one of the visible examples where we can see that also proponents of pro-choice movement themselves are starting to slide down from the slippery slope hill of arguments they have began with in 1973.
Opposing standpoint of scriptures does not only stop at the moment of conception, but it reaches far more beyond it. In Psalm 139:13-16 David speaks about the unique relationship God had towards him, when He was being created before anyone else could see him – “your eyes saw my unformed body”. David tells us in the chapter 139 that God had chosen us a lot before any human fertilization occurred, and even during the pregnancy he was still knitting us together. While one could object that it means that we are still not “done” before the birth (if he is knitting us together), this phrase rather speaks about the intention and the relationship God has towards us, for He is with us from the moment He made us “in the secret place”. In Luke 1:41-44 we see that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped when she heard Mary’s voice. First, the Greek word used here for baby “brephos” is the same word used a chapter later in Luke 2:16 when shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Bible makes no difference between prenatal and postnatal status of a baby! And then later in verse 44 Elizabeth says that it was a “leap of joy” that baby had done, which shows some kind of its mental capability. Still the weightiest argument against abortion Bible offers can be found in Exodus 21:22-25:
“22 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.
23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (NIV)
Even if there is no harm (caused to a woman or a baby) compensation needs to be disbursed to husband, woman and their prematurely born baby, which says something about the evil nature of this act. Still the cardinal principle shows up only in the second part of this paragraph where a serious injury is inflicted. It is not closer specified whether injury refers to mother or the child, therefore logically we must account for both. Now, undoubtedly if the baby (or an unborn fetus) died the mentioned “justice of retaliation” insists that a life would be taken for a life. Having in mind that the harm was from the beginning unintentional and therefore the whole happening was an accident, we can now comprehend the incredible value the fetus represents, when a death penalty in Mosaic Law is required for its accidental kill.
The issue of indifference
After reviewing all that has been said, a last underlying question remains. If all of this is true, how is possible then that 115 000 lives are put to death every day?
From the start there were always the two camps, but in the end it was never neither of these groups that mattered. The turning point stood always on the middle ground on the public opinion on those that was not necessarily directly included in the debate. Sadly also many Protestant churches were influenced by the progress and even though the middle position seemed cozy, the safe golden road: “I would not choose to have an abortion, but I think every woman has a right to make that choice for herself.” outweighed the balance towards pro-choice movement.
Now if one still wants to hold the banner of pro-choice movement, he must somehow overlook all the other possibilities besides abortion, ignore the high numbers that speak about deaths of true, full human beings and roughly hide behind a slippery slope of a self-justification and weak excuses that are founded exclusively in a human nature, specifically in our selfishness and convenience.
In the labyrinth of abundant discoveries, theories, conjectures or even opinions, I see no easier task than to see the motivation behind all of it, for if we agree that our overriding objective is to protect human life, the path is obvious. Yet it appears that it is the other way around. Our only task is to make it easier for all of us, for that is what abortion shows to be the best at, but is it right?
Since I have not brought in all the arguments available, a more extensive study is needed in order to further illuminate this subject and I believe even more secure the position I have proposed.