Perhaps the most heavily debated and hotly controversial topics in recent times is the issue of abortion. Most individuals have a fairly firm stance on one side of the issue or the other. Abortion is at the forefront of politics and ethics.
My opinion is that getting an abortion is an unethical practice. Actually, my stance is a bit firmer than that. My belief is that abortion should be illegal, except in a few rare exceptions. There are many reasons for this belief, one of course being my Christianity. I believe that abortion is unsupported in the Bible, and furthermore I believe there is actually scriptural evidence that abortion is considered evil. 1 But my conviction about abortion transcends my religious beliefs.
In this essay, I would like to offer my secular reasons for believing that abortion is immoral. Therefore, one need not be religious in order to accept the arguments put forth here.
The Immorality of Abortion
I think all rational persons reading this will agree with me that killing innocent human beings is immoral. Thus, my argument here will primarily be concerned with showing that unborn embryos and fetuses are in fact human beings. Once it is determined that the unborn are human beings, it becomes obvious that abortion is an unethical practice.
A sperm is life. An egg is life. “Life” in this term does not necessitate our concern. We aren’t concerned with scratching our arm because we don’t want to kill skin cells. Humans, however, are quite important, and are deserving of protection and respect. Some may claim that a sperm and an egg combined and a sperm and egg separated are essentially the same (in other words, there is no critical distinction between the separated sex cells and the sex cells combined). However, I find this to be quite untrue. There is a very important distinction between the two.
When a sperm and egg cell combine, it becomes something fundamentally different. It becomes a human being in its early stages. The embryo has the information necessary to develop into a fully-functioning human being like you or me. In addition, the embryo is already in the process of developing into a human like you or me. The only essential difference between the embryo and a full-grown human is that they are in different stages of life.
There are also several advantages to identifying the beginning of human life at conception. It is simpler than all other points of identification. It leaves no room for doubt as to when the unborn deserves protection (there is no “limbo” between humanity and inhumanity). Also, identifying humanity at conception leads to no moral dilemmas. In short, there are good reasons to accept my definition of the beginning of humanity and no good reasons to reject them. But some may disagree.
If a pro-abortionist can come up with a better distinction for the beginning of humanity, then it is possible that abortion is a moral act, at least in the secular sense. Thus, I will examine attempts to create different criteria, and I will see if any of them fare better than my own definition.
There are a number of unscholarly arguments used by unsophisticated abortion advocates. Here is a partial list of such arguments:
1. The embryo doesn’t even look human, it’s like a limp fish.
2. The embryo is so tiny it’s just a speck.
3. The embryo has a tail, gill slits, and other animal features. It’s not really a human yet.
It is almost needless to say that such arguments are invalid. Since when has protection by the law been determined by looks or size? Are people that look like monkeys unprotected? What about midgets? Obviously, the physical appearance of the embryo is absolutely irrelevant to the issue of whether or not abortion is a moral action.
But even if that were not the case, it is oftentimes untrue that aborted fetuses look very different than a small child. Unborn children develop human-like characteristics at an early stage.
A slightly more powerful argument advanced by abortion advocates is that the unborn becomes a human being worthy of protection once it has the ability to survive without the mother. Fetuses are typically viable after about 24 weeks, so this argument cannot be used to advocate abortions beyond the 24th week of pregnancy. In any case, viability fails as a valuable criteria for two important reasons.
1. Viability, or the point in which the fetus is able to survive outside the mother, has changed throughout history. Viability used to be considered to occur quite a bit after the 24 week period. These days, due primarily to increased medical technology, the point of viability has changed. Surely we cannot consider viability to be a valuable and objective criteria for determining the humanity of the embryo/fetus. It is ridiculous to suppose that the humanity of the fetus changes depending on the time. The implications are disastrous. 100 years ago we could allow millions of abortions to take place on fetuses that are now considered viable! Perhaps in the future fetuses will become viable at week 15. All of the sudden, every single abortion that we had previously between the time of 16 and 23 weeks was murder of an innocent human being.
2. Viability also depends on medical technology available. The unborn fetus in the U.S. becomes viable much earlier than the unborn fetus in Sudan. However, it is ridiculous to suppose that there is anything objectively different between the unborn in Sudan and the unborn in the U.S.
For these reasons, the proposed criteria of viability must not be used as a criteria for the humanity of the unborn.
Another common pro-abortion argument is that, since the child is dependent upon the mother, the mother has the right to kill the embryo/fetus.
This criterion has disastrous implications. Consider Siamese Twins, John and Fred. John is the dominant one and doesn’t require Fred to live but Fred requires John in order to live. Does John have the right to kill Fred? I would think not. (In actuality, Fred’s dependence could be much more taxing on John than the dependence between a mother and child. Furthermore, the mother and child will eventually discontinue dependence- which is not the case with conjoined twins. It seems rather hypocritical for us to allow termination in the case of the unborn but disallow it in the case of conjoined twins.)
In any case, it is unclear as to whether or not dependence ends at birth anyways. Sometimes the mother is the only person who can help the baby survive. Nobody would then wish to argue that the mother has the right to kill the infant because the infant is “dependent” on her. Either way, it is obviously not true that the mother has the right to kill the unborn merely because the unborn is dependent upon the mother.
A very popular pro-abortion argument is that there is a significant difference between an embryo/fetus without higher brain function and a fetus with the ability for higher brain function. However, fetuses in the womb have registered brain waves so this argument is not sufficient to allow abortions at any period during the pregnancy.
However, I fail to see how the ability for minimal brain function is really all that significant at all. After all, the most important functions of the brain are to provide self-concept, personality, memories, etc. These are the important things that make us into the people we are. The mere possession of brain tissue is quite insignificant in the whole scheme of things. Since brain function by itself is not a valuable criterion for determining the humanity of the fetus, it should be rejected unless conjoined with the proposition that one must have personality, self-concept, memories, etc. in order to deserve protection as a human being.
Of course, personality, self-concept, etc. all develop much after childbirth. This criterion would lead to legal infanticide, so I doubt it would be supported by any moral man.
Another major problem with the criterion of brain function is that persons in a coma would not be deserving of protection. But just because persons in a coma do not have the ability to think does not mean that they are undeserving of protection, as almost all will agree. So, it seems to me that brain function is a useless criterion for determining the point of humanity.
A whole different class of arguments deals not with whether or not the fetus is a human, but with the supposed sociological, economical, and political backlashes of the illegalization of abortion. Thus, the following are a few good examples:
1. The illegalizaton of abortion will lead to increased deaths from unsafe abortions.
2. There will be nobody to adopt the millions of babies.
3. It is emotionally harmful to force a women to have a baby against her will.
This is just a small sampling. Arguments of this form are extremely numerous. However, they are actually quite irrelevant to the issue. After all, none of the above, even if true, leads to the justification of killing innocent human beings. These arguments are nothing but a distraction from that main issue- whether or not abortion is a form of murder.
Most of these arguments, in my mind, are definitely faulty. However, I will not address them here because they are nothing but a distraction.
When is Abortion Moral?
There is one instance in which abortion is a valid option. Namely, if the life of the mother is at imminent risk then the mother should be able to decide whether or not she wants an abortion. I believe it is moral in this instance because one must choose between the lesser of two evils.
There are however, some instances in which even pro-life individuals believe abortion should be an option. Three common examples include the instances of rape, incest, and deformation of the child.
On the issue of rape I do not believe abortion is justified. Certainly I think it is terrible for a rape to happen to a woman. Women who are raped should get governmental assistance and priority in adoption agencies and orphanages (and I support the harshest penalties for the man involved- including death penalty). However, the unborn child is not at fault for the rape of his/her mother. Therefore we are not justified in allowing the mother to kill an innocent human being.
On the issue of incest and/or deformation I do not believe abortion is justified either. The child that is the result of the wrongful relationship is still a human being. We should not deny that person the chance to live life. We are not in the position to play God and decide whether or not the child will have a fulfilling life. We all deserve a chance, even those of us with disadvantages.
The final plea of the pro-abortionist is “don’t impose your morality on me!” However, there are times when it is quite appropriate to impose your own standards upon others. In the same manner that I will not tolerate infanticide, I will not sit idly by while abortions are carried out.
This does not mean that I have no compassion for those who have had abortions or those who support the practice of abortion. Many of them may be honestly mistaken. However, it is very important that our society discontinues the practice of abortion now. It is perhaps the most important issue our society faces today.
1. J.P. Holding, “Aborted Exegesis”, http://www.tektonics.org/abortion01.html