More than with any other debate of our time, the outcome of the battle over abortion will be what defines our civilization for all the ages.
As my native country of Ireland votes today on whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment to her constitution, the tried and true arguments on both sides are coming, full force.
From the repeal side, voices proclaim that restrictions on abortion are a threat to women’s health, an encroachment on their reproductive rights and completely futile, as Irish women who need abortions simply travel abroad or use dangerous drugs to chemically end the life in their womb.
The keep side of the aisle argues that the fetus is a human being and has a right to life as valid as any other member of the human species.
It is a contentious debate that is not unique to the Emerald Isle, but what is unique is the fact that Ireland is one of only a handful of developed nations to have abortion restrictions in her constitution.
The Irish people will decide the country’s future regarding abortion. Many are saying that even if – as is likely – the amendment is repealed, abortion will not become available on demand, but will remain incredibly difficult to obtain in the country.
Ireland’s 8th amendment – and the fierce battle over it – sums up the heart of the abortion debate: does a human being that is still in the womb have the same right to life as one who has already been born?
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. – Article 40.3.3, 8th amendment to the Constitution of Ireland
This is the primary question and, though there are passionate – and valid – points on either side, there is only one correct answer. There is a definite beginning to human life. Some believe it is at conception, others believe it happens later in the pregnancy or even after birth. But an undeniable truth is there exists a definite point at which a fetus becomes a person.
Science will one day answer the question and it is my opinion that when that day comes, we will be looked upon in the same scorn and judgment as we view historical societies that accepted slavery or child marriage. The great question for our time is what are we willing to risk?
It is amazing to me how human beings can see the same ethical question in completely different ways based, not upon morality, but as means’ to their own end. The same people who passionately say they would rather see nine guilty men go free than to see one innocent man punished will not take the same stance when it comes to abortion. They are unwilling to acknowledge that the scientific uncertainty about what constitutes human life means the potential of their position advocating murder.
There isn’t any real disagreement that nobody can prove without a doubt the exact moment when a human being gains his or her human rights. Some say it is at the moment of conception – others choose an arbitrary point along the pregnancy up to the actual birth. Some take the view that until the baby can live and breathe on his own, it does not have human rights.
This position sets a dangerous precedent, as there is a long stretch between a baby’s birth and the time at which he could actually live for very long without his mother or father’s intervention To attempt to kill this baby at any time in this period of complete dependence on outside help would be considered murder. Even the most logical appearing arguments – when based on human judgment rather than pure morality or true science – open the door to grievous crimes against nature. If we need any further evidence, we must look only to the Romans, who held the same view as those who support abortion up to the point of viability.
The Romans held the same moral position as the so-called pro-choice movement – that children who were inconvenient to their parents could be disposed of – and they were just as unapologetic as their modern counterparts. When Rome began to slip toward its ultimate end, unwanted children who were considered too much of a burden to a struggling family were exposed: taken out to the wilderness and left there to die, either of exposure to the cold or as a meal for wild animals.
Many of the innocent children who were exposed by the Romans were actually rescued and given a chance at life by persecuted Christians of the time. Some things never change!
Now it is not my intention to suggest that anybody living today who approves of abortion would ever suggest that this method of dealing with unwanted children was ethical, but that is the point. History will judge us and our tolerance of abortion in the very same way as we do the Romans and their acceptance of exposure: barbaric.
So what is it that fuels the belief in so many otherwise compassionate and intelligent people that to deliberately end the life of a baby is justified and moral, simply because the baby is inside his mother’s womb? In any debate, one must seek to understand the opposition’s point of view. For only when we understand someone can we truly discuss with them.
Ahead are some of the most popular arguments for abortion, followed by my personal rebuttals:
Her body, her choice.
This will always be the crux of the abortion debate and how someone views it will decide their opinion on the morality of abortion 100 percent of the time. The disagreement is not whether or not a woman has the right to do what she wants to her own body – everyone agrees that she does. The disagreement is about whether or not she has a right to do what she wants to the baby’s body.
The most eloquent definition of liberty is – in my humble opinion – as follows: an individual’s rights extend in a circle extending farther and farther, having no boundaries, until they come into contact, or conflict, with the rights of another. If we agree with this maxim, then the only question that remains is whether or not the baby is part of the mother’s body. If it is, she is morally free to kill the child. If the baby is not, the mother has absolutely no right to either kill or injure the baby.
The fetus is part of the mother’s body for the simple fact that if she were not inside the mother’s womb, the baby would have no chance to survive.
There will always be disagreements on this one, but they are more often reverse-engineered from an individual’s view on abortion itself, rather than based on biological facts. The baby is clearly not a part of the mother’s body – it simply lives inside her. Science has proven this and will continue to do so more concretely, as the stage of pregnancy at which a fetus can be removed from the womb and medically kept alive gets earlier and earlier.
Another undeniable fact that proves the baby is not a part of the mother’s body is that the baby can – and often does – have a different blood type. It is scientifically illogical to assert that a baby in the womb is part of the mother’s body when it is, in fact, a separate being living within that body.
The blood of a mother will almost never mix with the blood of the baby, thanks to the placenta. Nutrients are delivered from the mother’s blood through the placenta via the process of diffusion; wastes from the baby’s little system are similarly removed into the mother’s blood stream by the same process, and then eliminated through her liver and kidneys. It’s almost enough to make one think the whole process was designed to operate that way – but that’s a discussion for another day.
The biological fact is that the human species procreates by people spending the first 9 months in their mother’s womb. The baby grows in the womb, and if left to natural progression, will grow into a child, a teen and finally an adult. To interrupt this natural progression at any point in the process is, prima facie, murder.
At the earliest stages of pregnancy, a fetus is merely a clump of genetic cells with no true human value.
This is a popular argument for abortion because it is easier to de-humanize a fetus in the early, unformed stage, because it doesn’t resemble a human. It becomes more difficult to do as the pregnancy progresses and we begin to see the pictures of the cute little fingers and toes moving, and the sweet little smiling mouths.
The problem is that even in the earliest stages of life – even when all it resembles is a clump of cells – it still possesses the complete genetic code of an individual human being that will, with time and the normal processes of life, develop into a fully functioning person who may one day change the world. Or perhaps they won’t change the world; perhaps they will live simple lives of relative obscurity. Regardless of what they decide, they have the inalienable right to choose.
A baby in the womb is not sentient, so she is not a full human being.
According to “Merriam-Webster,” sentience is a being’s ability to be responsive to or conscious of sense impressions. It is true that we do not know precisely when the baby begins to think and feel, but lack of sentience is not automatically a disqualifier of one’s human rights. A person in a coma is no more sentient than a baby, yet countless amounts of effort will be expended to keep him alive in the hopes of his awakening.
The person in the coma’s right to life is fought for, usually, because people know him and believe he has potential sentience, but so does a fetus. Indeed, a fetus actually has more potential to become sentient than a person in a coma because we know that in the vast majority of cases, the baby will, left to the natural order of things, become a sentient human being. It is not always so certain in the case of a person in a coma.
A fetus in the early stages of development cannot live on his own; his heart cannot beat, his brain has no advanced function and he is unable to breathe; without the ability to live independent of assistance from the womb, the baby does not have a natural right to live.
As void of empathy as this argument is, it betrays far more pure ignorance than callousness, as each of those arguments could as justifiably be applied to many adults who enjoy the legally protected right to life. A person with a pacemaker has a heart that cannot beat on its own; a person who suffers a severe head trauma can end up with brain waves on varying scale when compared to the general public; a person on a ventilator cannot breathe on her own.
In none of those examples could we imagine the impediment being seriously entertained as a justification to deliberately end the person’s life.
People who are against abortion are trying to legislate morality, and that is wrong.
Human society is founded upon the legislation of morality; we would (hopefully) never build a society that would attempt to legislate immorality. There is no avoiding it. Whether people are religious or not, we legislate morality all the time. We have countless laws against rape, murder, theft, assault, drunk driving, child abuse, spousal abuse and any other act that we have as a collective society recognized as wrong.
The debate over abortion is not simply one side trying to legislate morality – it is both sides attempting to do so. One side says it is immoral to deliberately end the life of a human being. The other says it is immoral to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body.
Legislation of morality has been an intrinsic part of every society in human history, and it is not the problem. The issues only arise when one person’s moral compass points in a different direction to someone else’s.
Pro-lifers are so concerned with the baby before she is born, but turn a blind eye when the baby is born into a family that can’t afford to feed her.
This statement – though it makes a valid point – is a false equivalency. The argument, while attempting to divert the moral momentum against the opponents, is actually saying that abortion is justifiable on the basis of the parents’ being unable to financially support the child. If followed to its logical conclusion, this argument could just as easily be used to justify ending the life of a one week old, a one month old or even a one year old. But the argument wouldn’t get very far for one reason – it is illegal to kill those children.
A woman shouldn’t be forced to have a baby that will be an inconvenient burden when the option of abortion is available.
This is one of the weaker arguments for abortion that, for some reason, sounds completely reasonable to many people. I am sorry, but someone being an inconvenience or a burden on a woman is not justification for her to kill them. Once the pregnancy has begun, it is a present-tense situation. It is no longer a situation that will be anything to her. The time to avoid the potential inconvenience was before she got pregnant.
Abortion needs to be allowed in cases of rape and incest.
This is without a doubt the most difficult argument for abortion to defend against, because it sets compassion against empathy and logic against reason. One cannot claim to be a person of compassion, and look at a girl who has already gone through unspeakable trauma and tell her that she cannot end the pregnancy that resulted from that trauma. On the other hand, one cannot be morally consistent to selectively justify the ending of human life.
The difficult fact is that there are people in the world who do evil things and rapists are among the worst. They destroy a woman’s (or a man’s) sense of security in the one thing they should be completely secure – within themselves. Rapists should be punished in the worst ways possible, as their crime is not only the immediate act, but the decades of pain that act will cause.
However, to kill the baby of a rapist is to sentence a child for the sins of his father. If we get to the consensus that a baby in the womb is an individual human being with rights of his own, he cannot be killed for a crime he did not commit. We would not imprison an innocent child who gained the benefit of a private school education due to the criminal activity of her bank-robbing parents and we cannot impose a death sentence upon an innocent baby for the actions of his father.
The truth is, we may never reach agreement, but we must never stop discussing these vital issues. There are many more arguments in favor of abortion, and just as many refutations. There is one factor that is absent from this article because I chose to omit it – the religious arguments. The belief in an equal right to life for all is not a uniquely religious position, but a fundamental human one.
As Roman Catholics, we are commanded by God to fight for the rights of the poor, the oppressed and the persecuted, especially those in the womb. To effectively wage this war against the forces of evil, we must first understand the rules of battle. We cannot make an argument from Sacred Scripture or Church teaching, when the person with whom we are dialoguing does not accept the authority of Scripture or the Church.
Using Scripture or the Church teaching would only be effective in dealing with fellow Christians, and that should never be necessary, as no true Christian can support abortion. Life is gift from God and the taking of a life is the direct assault upon that gift, and a grievous offense to the Lord.
A Catholic who supports abortion ceases to be Catholic.
Just like Our Blessed Lord did, we must meet people with whom we disagree on any common ground we can find. It is our duty to reach out. That is our burden and, indeed, our blessing. The Holy Spirit will guide us in any environment. We must simply follow Him.
Abortion is intrinsically wrong by all laws, values and morals by which the human species lives. It is the murder of the most innocent among us. In this article I have presented a case against abortion that is void of the one factor that is present in almost everything else I write of or speak about: religion. I have not made a case from the Bible because it is not necessary to use the Bible to prove that abortion is wrong.
Science is revealing more and more about the earliest stages of human life and as it does, we are learning that the value of that life is far higher than some would have us believe. The abortion debate boils down to one crucial choice: either the fetus is an alien being temporarily devoid of true human value, or it is a baby person with full and equal human rights. If an alien, then it can be killed with impunity; if it’s a person, it cannot be justifiably killed for any reason.
The choice is ours. I pray we choose wisely.