You might remember the movie. A girl gets pregnant and instead of getting an abortion she carries the baby to term and gives her baby up for adoption.
Do you remember that interesting little girl standing outside the abortion clinic talking about the babies’ fingernails? I am that weird little girl in a grown man’s body. Hopefully, we can continue to agree or disagree amicably and really sharpen one another in our thinking on controversial issues. Opinions are like religions in that, as they say, ‘every one thinks their opinion is the right one or they would get a new opinion’ (even when we think there is no such thing as a right or wrong opinion that is our opinion that we think is right 😉 ).
I think I’m right on this issue but I could be wrong.
Regardless, in this post I want us to consider the question:
What Would Juno Do? We can even make bracelets and bumper stickers at the end of this; we will make a fortune with the pro-life crowd.
Should abortion be morally permissible? Many in our culture answer this question with an emphatic yes. To respond in the negative is to oppose Women’s rights while simultaneously imposing your morality on other people. If you want to witness how intolerant our tolerant society can be attempt to do either of these two things.
In fact, given our cultural situation in Canada what is the chance that a young person will hear a defense of the pro-life position that is not argued by a zealous religious person quoting a sacred book whose authority they don’t acknowledge? Rare, I would think. As a result, here is my attempt:
Let me suggest two crucial questions that cut to the heart of the issue:
(1) Do Human beings possess intrinsic moral value?
(2) Is the developing Fetus a human being?
Intrinsic value means that something, or someone, is valuable if it is an end in itself, not merely a means to some other end. Most people believe that human beings are valuable in and of themselves, not simply as a means to some other end. This is why I believe we should love people and use possessions rather than use people as possessions. As pointed out in another post this is one of Kant’s categorical imperatives.
Affirming this intuitive moral principle provides a rational basis from which to condemn murder, rape, racism, sexism and oppression. It is enshrined in the ‘United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, which means this principle is widely accepted across diverse cultures.
In addition, I believe it to be impossible to build any coherent moral framework without ascribing to this basic moral principle. I realize the last sentence is an assertion, not an argument, but I would challenge anyone to try and build a coherent moral framework from a deontological, or a utilitarian ethic, without leaning on this concept explicitly or implicitly (i.e. any talk about what is good for society, or the greatest number, will lead to talk about human flourishing and as soon as we ask, ‘why is this good’? we are back to affirming the intrinsic value of human life). If human beings don’t have intrinsic value, then it appears impossible to consistently condemn most heinous acts of violence or aggression against persons.
Is the developing Fetus a human being?
Well, it is not a dog, cat or fish.
It is undeniable that from the moment of conception the ‘zygote’ is a genetically complete human being, which if left to develop naturally will grow into a human member of the species (miscarriages aside). At the moment of conception sex, eye color, body type, and hair color are all determined and waiting to develop.
This is, of course, completely different than sperm, or an unfertilized egg. Neither the sperm, nor the egg constitute a human life because each is genetically incomplete and if left alone won’t develop into anything. A Sperm or an egg is the potential of a human life. A fetus (Latin for ‘little one’), however, is a human life at the beginning of development.
Let’s not forget the pro-choice position doesn’t just make possible abortions shortly after conception. Instead, abortions are permissible all the way through the pregnancy in some places. Until just recently partial birth abortions were practiced in the west where the baby was partially delivered, their skull was pierced, and the brain was sucked out. I know it is brutal, but honesty requires we face the facts. Consistent pro-choice philosophy opens the door for a practice like this, even though it has recently been banned, and many pro-choice advocates would be appalled by it.
I’ve read that many pregnancies are detected at around the 8th week (this just happened with my wife and I – we had no idea ‘we’ were pregnant) and by then we aren’t just dealing with a cluster of cells but a very tiny baby with a face and features. A pro-choice video called “The Gift of Choice” claims that the unborn is ‘a probability of a future person’. But as pro-life writer, Randy Alcorn points out, “what’s left after an abortion are small but perfectly formed body parts- arms and legs, hands and feet, torso and head. The physical remains indicate the end not of a potential life but an actual life. If you don’t believe this examine the remains of an abortion. If you cannot bear to look, ask yourself why.”
You can find these pictures on the Internet but it is brutal and I’m not sure I would recommend it.
At 8 weeks all of the organs of the body are already present, and the muscle and circulatory systems are complete. Brain wave activity is also present. The baby is already moving by clenching and unclenching her little fists and curling her toes. Many abortions occur between the 10 and 12th week of pregnancy. So there are two bodies involved in an abortion, not just the mothers. The fetus isn’t like an appendix – it is a biologically distinct, complete living being that is hooked up to the mom for life support.
In addition, separating pregnancy into three trimesters is arbitrary and has no basis in medical science. It seems to me that coming out of the womb shouldn’t magically transform a fetus into a human being. A baby’s moral value and intrinsic worth isn’t bestowed suddenly upon birth. To claim exiting the womb suddenly and magically confers intrinsic worth and moral value on the baby is completely arbitrary and lacks credible philosophical and medical underpinnings. If you can’t kill a baby outside of the womb, why can we end the life of a baby inside of the womb?
Is abortion okay because the baby is inside the mother? Why should that matter? Babies can survive outside of the womb before coming to full term (i.e. around 24 weeks). Anyways, why should independence or dependance on the mom confer, or take away, the intrinsic moral value of the child?
Again, to draw a line anywhere in the nine months were we say, ‘not a human being with moral value’, to ‘now a human being with moral value’, has no basis in medical science.
Person’s Have Moral Value
Not so fast. Now, some philosopher’s, being unable to escape the scientific facts about the fetus, have contended that it is ‘persons’ who have moral value. Human beings don’t have intrinsic moral value simply because they are a member of the species, but human ‘persons’ do.
A person is someone who is self-conscious. A ‘fetus’ is not a person and it is, therefore, morally acceptable to terminate a fetus. To be a person, who has intrinsic moral value, you need to be functioning as a person, which requires ‘self-consciousness’, independence, or participation in a moral community. A fetus doesn’t count.
The problem with this proposed escape hatch for legitimizing abortion is that the exact same reasoning can be used to justify infanticide. Newborns are not self-conscious, or independent either and, given this definition of personhood, they would not be persons with moral value.
The above position on abortion could be used to justify infanticide, which has been advocated by some, particularly in regard to disabled children (i.e. well known philosopher Peter Singer – Should the baby live?). I should add, many disabled people, even extremely disabled people, have a quality of life; I have one in my family and I can testify to this.
Anyways, it may take a year or so (philosophers, I think, are still unsure) to develop self-consciousness which means that at any time during this developmental stage it would be morally permissible for parents to allow their children to die (given the above logic). Most pro-choice advocates would reject the above logic but it is consistent, albeit controversial.
The Moral Inconsistency of Pro-choice?
In America a news story broke about many women desiring male children over and above female children (this issue was also mentioned in another post). As a result of this preference women were finding out the sex of their child in the womb and aborting the baby if it was female. The response to this true story was one of moral outrage. Not surprisingly, the pro-life crowd condemned this practice in no uncertain terms.
The response of the pro-choice crowd was also incredibly negative. What was curious is the reason why pro-choice advocates were condemning the practice. Upon first reflection you would think the pro-choice proponents would have no grounds for opposing this practice. After all, it seems that to be pro-choice means the woman has the right to choose what she does with the life in her womb free of constraints or outside interference.
Here was the reasoning:
“Having abortions for this reason is wrong because it is sexist. Targeting female fetuses and aborting them specifically because they are female is anti-women, and it must end”.
This is why some hospitals refuse to tell parents the sex of the child. Let me pose a few questions for your consideration, “How can this practice be anti-women if the fetus is not a person to begin with’? Isn’t the fetus just a bunch of cells, or the potential of a human being? If the fetus is not human in any moral sense than there can be nothing wrong with targeting fetus’ male or female.
Do you see the moral inconsistency?
I’d like to avoid this issue but we can’t duck the hard topics. This is a tragic circumstance. It would help if I were a woman at this point. But I am not. Let us just remember that we critique an idea, we don’t attack the gender of the person holding it. To do so would be committing the ad Hominen fallacy. Many women do in fact hold the below position, even women who have experienced sexual assault resulting in pregnancy.
I can’t imagine the type of physical and emotional pain this type of reprehensible act would cause the victim. If a woman got an abortion as the result of a rape I would have great sympathy. In fact, I would have great sympathy for any woman who has gotten an abortion. I’ve had friends who have terminated their pregnancies. Moreover, I co-lead a group, in which some women are dealing with past abortions. I don’t think this makes them bad people, simply victims of a bad philosophy. But a couple of things can be said about the controversial issue of abortion and rape:
Firstly, any answer given on paper will likely seem cold and uncaring. However, even in emotionally heated situations like this one we need to think clearly. And I don’t think we can use an extreme circumstance like rape to validate all abortions because this is clearly an erroneous line of reasoning. The rape victim and the person who willfully had unprotected sex are not in the same category.
In this situation, it is important we come back to the two questions we asked at the beginning of this blog post. ‘Do human beings have intrinsic moral value?’ And ‘is the developing fetus a human being?’ I think the answer is clearly ‘yes’ to both of these questions for the philosophical and scientific reasons mentioned above.
Obviously, rape and abortion are not the same. But rape is morally wrong for one of the same reasons that abortion is morally wrong. Both rape and abortion are acts of violence against innocent humans beings, assaulting the inherent worth and dignity of their personhood (or potential personhood).
Please don’t misunderstand me. Of course, of course, of course, the woman having an abortion does not accrue the moral blame that the rapist does. They are NOT equivalent in this sense, because there is not the same intentionality involved and I believe the woman having the abortion is also a victim of bad philosophy and convincing propaganda. She needs compassion not judgment or name calling.
Given the intrinsic moral value of the ‘little one’, even in the instance of rape abortion would be morally wrong. Again, this can seem like a harsh thing to write. What a difficult sentence to impose on a rape victim! A nine-month reminder of the crime that was committed against them. I understand that reaction but as a child I learned that two wrong don’t make a right and I think that is one idea we shouldn’t outgrow.
In my short life I’ve already seen many bad situations turn out for the good. This is not always the case, of course, but the point is we don’t know. For example, I am NOT saying that the woman has to raise the child resulting from the crime committed against her. She could, however, give the child up for adoption and make another couples dream for a baby come true. This child, who was the product of violence, could grow up to do great things that benefit humanity, or at the very least be a blessing to a family who wants a child. I’ve read some stories like this but it would involve a courageous choice by the mother that couldn’t be forced on her.
This one tugs on your hearts strings. I understand the desire to make abortion permissible given a sexual assault but I don’t think it is right for the above reasons. I will say, however, if our society only allowed abortion in the case of rape, or to save a mother’s life, that would be a small step towards a more morally acceptable approach to the issue of abortion in my opinion.
The Mother’s Health
What if the life of the mother is threatened and she will die if the fetus isn’t terminated? In this situation, either the baby dies, the mother dies, or both the mother and the baby die. If the choice is between two lives being lost or only one life being lost we should choose the option that preserves the mother’s life in my opinion (though I guess it is up to the mom and the family).
But it is still a tragic decision because a human life has been lost. I don’t know if I would label this an abortion. I might call it a rescue operation where not all lives could possibly be saved so a hard decision is made.
The above situation has, of course, occurred. I have a friend whose family faced this difficult choice and if the doctor hadn’t saved the mother my friend wouldn’t be here. I should, however, mention that I dislike the tendency in ethical discussions to introduce extreme situations that are legitimate gray areas when the intention of said examples is to muddy people’s moral reasoning and blur the lines between right and wrong.
They truth is the majority of abortions that are performed are not to save a mother’s life and/or terminate the result of a rape.
The Beauty Of Choice
Choice is a beautiful thing. So is freedom. So are women’s rights. But I don’t think anyone should be free, or have the right, to choose whether or not to put to death an innocent human being. Ask yourself, ‘are any of the below reasons good enough to justify taking the life of an innocent human being’?
A mother unable to cope with a child, poverty, a means of regulating population, a mother’s mental health (let’s not forget that abortion can have damaging affects on a mother’s mental health anyway, regardless of their religious perspective. I have a front row seat to this), a disability, or a rape. Again, if the fetus is a human being, who is innocent, do any of the above reasons justify taking the babies life?
If your answer is ‘yes’, think through the implications of the position you are embracing. Would you want it consistently applied to other situations?
Every child should be a wanted child so let’s learn to want our children as a society not terminated them before they get a chance at life outside of the womb.
To oppose abortion doesn’t need to lead to back alley abortions if more monies are funneled into programs that provide support and encouragement for single, or young moms in particular, who are willing to carry their child to term. In addition, continued awareness of the availability of birth control would continue to bring down the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
Well, that is the best I can do on a blog. It’s already too long. Feel free to disagree. Dang, that was a ton of work. And I don’t even get a grade.
Remember WWJD – What Would Juno Do? Thanks for letting me act like the weird girl in the film Juno.