Abortion

One problem with this discussion, and many others, is that neither side listens carefully to the other's arguments. Pro-choice says a woman has a right to make decisions which affect her own body. (Theoretically only as long as the decision doesn't hurt anyone else. But is this ever really the case for anyone?) Pro-Life says she had that right until she, usually somewhat willingly, created a new life. Does she now have the right to end that life in exchange for her convenience? Wouldn't this be murder? Pro-choice avoids this question, implying that they don't have a good answer. I think some of my arguments below answer this adequately.

1. LIFE is a continuum that probably began on Earth five billion (or if you prefer, six thousand) years ago. At different stages it is found in different kinds of packages, such as the egg and sperm. But these represents LIFE as much before conception as after.

2. "Abortion is MURDER." It's clearly the intentional ending of a Homo Sapiens life. But according to the dictionary, murder is "the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another". Therefore, abortion is not murder unless the law says it is. (Premeditated, yes, malicious, maybe.) Also, the definitions of "human" and "person" are very vague, but don't generally apply to fetuses. You could say there is also a moral definition of murder but it isn't in the dictionary. We are still (and always will be) in the process of deciding what is morally murder.

To me "HUMAN" means firstly any entity possessing a high degree of sentience. Therefore, in the moral rather than the legal sense, murder is relative to the victim's present level of sentience. A humane, painless killing may be a moral crime against (or a benefit for) a group, a species or the universe, but not against the individual, who has no increased fear or suffering before or after the act. The crime of causing suffering is relative to the victim's ability to sense fear and pain.

3. CONSCIOUSNESS, AWARENESS, SENTIENCE, HUMANNESS, a sense of identity and the ability to suffer, grows continuously, but at varying speeds, from the first formation of the egg and sperm hopefully until the death of the individual. (In my recent terminology, consciousness or awareness is a measure of the degree to which one can perceive one's surroundings, and sentience is a measure of one's ability to process the information.)

4. "SOUL" is a religious word and therefore should not be involved in legal considerations, but remains an important word in moral decisions. It seems to mean a part of us, separate from body, mind, consciousness, personality, intellect, id, super-ego, but has vague connections with ego and spirit. Either it always existed, self-generated from nothingness, complete with attributes, or God created it. In any case, simply sending it back where it came from seems to be a no-no. Why, and by whose say-so?

5. GENETIC IDENTITY of an individual is what begins at conception, and every possible combination of egg and sperm that was created but dies without being joined represented a similar identity. So is it moral murder any time we intentionally prevent a possible conception? Is it murder to take the life of a human cancer cell?

6. SUFFERING should be the first priority to fight against rather than death, because causing, or experiencing others' suffering, or not preventing it, detracts from our own consciousness as well as the victim's.

7. A three month old embryo has a LESS DEVELOPED NERVOUS SYSTEM, and therefore less ability to sense pain or any other kind of suffering, than, say, the lobster which we happily boil alive, or the chimp which we use in medical experiments, or the adult human whom we would sentence to twenty years of hard (child- rearing) labor because of a few minutes of loving, but careless, abandon.

8. The welfare of the already viable and productive MOTHER is far more important than that of the potential child, who might not survive past infancy anyway.

9. A baby who is UNWANTED by its parents has little chance of becoming a happy, productive adult in an already over-populated world.

10. NATURAL is for animals. Humans find ways to make their environment, including their bodies, better fit their needs.

11. If LEGISLATING BIRTHS is valid, it should be used more to reduce the birth rate than to increase it. The Bible says "be fruitful and multiply", and our ethics and instincts of reproduction were developed in a time when many children had to be born to ensure the survival of a few, and when sex was assumed to eventually result in pregnancy. On many issues, we seem to still take the attitude that the world is short of people and we should keep each one alive as long as possible. This isn't my perception. To me, the interests of human society, and each lesser group, today are best supported by limiting population. Should we live blindly by our instincts?

12. Some say, "`Pro-choice' encourages SEXUAL FREEDOM." And what is wrong with intelligent sexual freedom? Our lack of consciousness about sex is created by society. Most of our social problems result from this lack, and from the conflict between tradition and reason.

13. From the GENETIC standpoint, by restricting public aid for abortions, we are encouraging people to be parents who for one reason or another were too careless to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and who are unable to take care of their own needs. Is this the group we want supplying the human gene, and cultural, pools?

Is it valid to protect a few cells simply because they have reached the level of having a specific "human" genetic identity, when on the other hand some say it's okay to kill thousands of human "enemy" soldiers because we don't know them as individuals? What does being "human" mean? Is it simply a matter of being biologically produced by Homo Sapiens, or does it refer to the level of consciousness? Are physically capable "adults" who have never developed the intelligence to be able to crawl more human than apes who can "talk"? The distinction of being "human" is one of the many ways we have of drawing invalid lines between "us" and "them". There is no valid place to draw a line between a non-human and a human (who can't legally be killed without having been convicted of a "crime", except in warfare).

The same people who would frown on the idea of paying a woman to bear a child for parents who can't have a child want to force her to bear one once it has started to grow.

I understand that the early Greeks, not having the technology for safe abortion, practiced infanticide in some cases. Babies were brought before a committee who decided if they were fit to live, or mal-formed in some way. If not fit, they were thrown off a cliff. From my limited knowledge of christening and baptism, it seems these are derived from the same idea. The infant must be examined by a priest and declared acceptable for Christian fellowship. If they couldn't be Christians they couldn't marry and have children within the context of polite society. But today, where does "polite society" begin and end?

I tend to feel we have gone too far in eliminating these institutions (though today, we have more humane ways of ending a life). We should act according to an entity's demonstrated level of sentience, not according to its age or genetic status. Being as conservative as intelligently possible, for a start, I would suggest that a unanimous decision by a committee of both parents, doctors, philosophers etc. (you name it) could legally terminate a beginning Homo Sapien life up until the time that it could walk by itself or originate a complete sentence. If the committee, except for the parents, was unanimously in favor of termination, neither the parents nor the child could receive public assistance until the child had been genetically sterilized.

Hypothetical anti-abortionist: "You're not a woman. How can you talk about abortion ethics?"

"No, but I was once a fetus, and even when I was that entity you claim to represent, I had no opposition whatsoever to abortion. Now that I've advanced beyond that stage, I've learned to think in terms of the good of the greater community."


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/