Is abortion right or wrong? This can be a sensitive subject because of the emotions involved.
First of all, I do not like the phrases “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, because they are loaded expressions saturated with propaganda. They are more like political phrases that implicitly assume their position.
Some arguments against abortion beg the question by assuming that a human life is always taken which therefore constitutes murder. This is circular reasoning. On the other hand, it would NOT be circular reasoning to begin with the assumption that abortion isn’t wrong. This is because, just like in a court of law, we must assume innocence before guilt. Abortion must therefore be proven to be wrong.
I believe if an argument is to be made for or against abortion it must be done on purely moral logical grounds, based on what is best for humans. By this reasoning, I will not consider any religious or spiritual objections to abortion, because they are subjective and personal; a sound argument for or against abortion should be able to stand on its own feet. If such an argument exists however, it should be considered whatever its source.
The most common argument against abortion is that a human life is taken. Is this true? Strictly speaking, it depends on when the abortion occurs. Immediately after conception, all that is present is a fertilised egg. Is this a human being? No. The gestation period describes the process from conception to birth, and it is clear that a new human being is being created, which means there was a point in the past when it did not exist. Whilst it may not be very easy at all to pinpoint when exactly that is, if abortion occurs early enough it cannot be said that a human life is taken.
Since human consciousness resides in the brain, it makes no sense to talk of personality or humanity where a brain doesn’t exist. Also, without a sufficiently developed brain, sensation is impossible. Since there is a stage in development where the brain doesn’t exist, we can also say there is a stage where personhood cannot exist, and there is a point in time when there is no chance of harm of pain.
Let me address the inviolability of human life: this is a metaphysical position. There are those who believe human life is sacred and higher to all other animals. Others think humans should not be given any deference over animal life. Whatever your position, it would be tenuous to argue a general moral law (such as against murder) based on personal metaphysical beliefs.
Let us also consider that there is more complexity and function in an insect than a newly conceived egg. If aborting a zygote or blastocyst is wrong then so is killing insects, not to mention destroying more complex forms of life considered vermin, like rats or mice. Some might argue that human life is worth more but: 1. a zygote or blastocyst is not a human, and 2. this assumes that human life is somehow more sacrosanct than animal. However, because this is a personal metaphysical bias, it would be unfair to impose it on others, and deeming abortion wrong as a result would be doing just that.
Another popular argument against abortion is that it denies the right to live. If this is true though, then shouldn’t contraception be wrong? Every time a human couple copulate there is a chance of a new human being coming into existence and having a life. Every time prophylactics are used, millions of sperm will die; millions of opportunities for another human life are destroyed. Some might argue that with contraception, there is no direct chance for human life because conception has not occurred, but this seems to be drawing the line in a rather convenient place. Why draw the line at conception but not earlier at the point of sexual intercourse? Why draw the line at conception but not later at the point of blastocyst emergence? To draw the line at the point of conception because ‘that is when a human life begins’ is circular reasoning. Also, although it is far more likely that a human life might emerge without contraception than with it, we are talking degrees on a scale of probability: even conception will not necessarily result in human life. Between 10% and 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, not to mention stillbirths. Many miscarriages occur without the woman even realising she was pregnant. Here we have nature aborting pregnancies on a regular basis.
There are also the rights of the woman to consider. Placing the possibility for potential of life above the mother’s rights would seem to be unfair. This is because the mother is an actual human being with the right to decide her life and future, whereas a foetus might not even have a developed brain. As previously discussed, there are far more developed, complex, and intelligent forms of life than a foetus. Examples include: dogs, cats, dolphins, apes. In fact, a rodent or fish demonstrate infinitely more behaviour than a foetus. No one would think of placing the rights of an animal above those of a human, so why place the “rights” of a foetus or blastocyst over those of a human? This seems to be a serious logical discrepancy.
Some might argue that having sex incurs responsibility and this is indeed true. However it does not follow that having sex means that one gives tacit consent to getting pregnant and becoming a parent. Allowing for the possibility that conception might occur is not the same as agreeing to sustain another lifeform for 9 months and giving birth. Moreover, even if it did, one cannot say that abortion is right as long as conception is an accident but wrong if conception could be avoided. Who is to make this determination, and how?
It seems that abortion is a grey area because there is a gradual progression of development and exact definitions are hard. Strictly speaking, abortion could be murder and therefore wrong if it occurs too late, and harmless (and even necessary) if it occurs early enough. It seems to me that the best balance between respecting human life and rights is to leave the decision of abortion with the only responsible person who can make that decision: the woman. Up to a certain amount of time, it is her private personal decision. After such time where we can say that a human brain has developed (therefore personality will start to emerge and the foetus/baby can experience pain), the developing baby should be considered a human being with all rights and privileges thereto. Should an issue occur after this time where it is actually beneficial to terminate the pregnancy (for instance, if carrying the child to term would actually kill the mother), the decision should be the mother’s or next-of-kin’s.
I won’t pretend to have covered every issue or objection here, but I believe the primary points have been discussed. I realise this can be a difficult subject, but we must be objective and logical when discussing it. Emotion is a powerful force, and personal beliefs can cloud judgement, which is why when trying to fairly decide an issue of this importance, personal biases and emotion should be kept of it. Of course this can be the hardest thing to do, but our interest should be in the facts and what is best for people.
I will maintain that the onus is on others to prove all abortion to be wrong, and not on women to justify any abortion to be right.