This post is part of a series of posts addressing arguments made against abortion. The format here is simple: I list a common argument against abortion and then open the floor for my readers to discuss. Without further ado, here’s today’s argument:
Abortion is murder
If a zygote/embryo/fetus is a person, abortion should not be permissible, as it is the active (not passive) taking of a human life. Yes, a zygote/embryo/fetus resides within a woman’s body, but that does not make terminating it any less murder. Given that abortion is murder, it should be made illegal.
Note that that this is not a question of whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is a person, but rather of what follows from the premise that a zygote/embryo/fetus is a person.
Please be civil and direct. Remember that I would like the comments section of this post to serve as a resource in the future. You are encouraged to link to articles elsewhere that help address this argument, or to studies or documentation. And don’t be afraid to respond to each other, to play the devil’s advocate, or to simply ask questions.
After a week I will close the comments sections on this post, and will choose the comments I consider clearest and most interesting and add them to the end of the OP (with full credit, of course).
The comments section on this post is now closed. I am adding some of the comments I found most interesting to the end of this post, and if you find these interesting make sure to read the rest of the comment section as there are many other interesting comments that I do not have room for here.
At this point, this person is still entirely reliant on the mother for its existence. In order for the mother to sustain this life, she must commit excess resources to it. These are not just the obvious resources of nutrition that are required for the growth of this developing person, but can also include resources such as time, emotion, and physical well being.
Let’s assume a different situation for a moment, one that doesn’t involve a growing miniature person living inside the mother, but one where someone external to our hypothetical mother is requiring similar resources from her. In this scenario, the mother (or rather, her equivalent in this analogy), has every right to either help this person sustain their existence or to turn them away. Even if it means the death of that other person, she has every right to protect her own well being and existence. Just because she might not die as a result of the aiding this other individual, the level of dependence could be degrading or unsustainable in some other way than in regards to her own life. Plus, it could simply be an interaction that was never wanted and one that was attempted to be avoided in the first place. In all cases, she has every right to back away or seek help to remove this burden from her life.
This abstract musing could be cemented with any number of examples (I’ll posit an abusive relationship, a stalker, or a moocher relative as a few examples). In those specifics and in the case of abortion, each represents a taxing element of the mother. We wouldn’t expect her to continue helping, or tolerating, those other individuals and we shouldn’t expect her tolerate a taxing pregnancy either. While it would be murder if she killed those other people in our analogy, it doesn’t equate murder in the case of abortion. There are all sorts of ways to sever contact with a troublesome individual other than taking a life. However, in the case of abortion, there is no other option than to take that life. If she would be allowed to file a restraining order or move away instead of continuing to allow an unwanted and taxing other to be dependent of her, then she should be allowed to seek an abortion to remove an unwanted and taxing other from within her.
Well, if anybody thinks abortion is murder, then there are well-understood ways to reduce it:
1. Increase access to birth control.
2. Improve access to medical care, especially for those in poverty and reproductive health care in particular. If women don’t have to worry as much about the financial burden of such health care, they will have less reason to obtain an abortion.
3. Improve the social safety net to reduce the number of people in poverty, for similar reasons as the above.
4. If you think that later-term abortions are worse than early-term abortions, then improving access to early-term abortions will make late term abortions even less common than they already are.
Not among the known ways to reduce abortion is outlawing or reducing legal access to it. Women tend to just find other ways to have abortions, and those methods tend to be far more likely to cause serious harm to the woman. In other words: outlawing abortion doesn’t save babies, it just kills girls and women.
Finally, what if the fetus in question has a severe genetic defect that gives it no chance of survival to term? Is it still murder if the fetus will be dead in a little while anyway?
If I am legally permitted to kill an unwanted intruder in my house, why should I not be legally permitted to kill an unwanted intruder in my body?
I have to say, I have a big problem with that argument. No, in my opinion killing an intruder in your home is NOT ok and is in fact illegal in many countries outside the US (unless, of course, the intruder is also attacking you – but self-defense is a whole different issue). I see the US legal system as having a questionable tendency of valuing property over people so this, to me, is a case of two wrongs not making one right.
That said, I want to stress that I actually don’t see abortion as the other wrong in this metaphor. I’m very much pro choice, I just don’t think this particular argument has any merit.
Just my two cents…
I’m not saying it’s “ok” to kill an unwanted intruder in your home — I’m saying that it is a widely accepted legal doctrine in the United States. If we’re discussing “murder,” i.e., the unlawful killing of another person, I think it is important to have that discussion in terms of other types of lawful and unlawful killing. In the case of the castle doctrine, you have a right to protect yourself and your family from intruders who may inflict physical, property-related, or psychological damage, using violence up to and including deadly force. Is there a state that doesn’t recognize the right to self defense within your own house?
My daughter caused irreparable, permanent damage to my body during her gestation and birth. But she was an invited guest. If an unwanted intruder showed up inside my body, I would have to weigh the use of deadly force against the likelihood that I would sustain further injury (as is likely in my case). I think of abortion in terms of “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” — and an embryo/fetus is way, way past the nose. In this formulation, the question of whether the embryo/fetus is a person is completely irrelevant to my right to defend myself from bodily harm.
Granting your premise we run into the implied consequence – “you have an obligation to use your body to preserve the life of another person”
Now I’m a blood donor and registered to give my organs after death. I think organ donation after death hould be opt out, not opt in. But legally and morally nobody is obliged to donate a single cell to keep another person alive.
I support a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy at any time (I’m willing to consider requiring an attempt at live birth after the point of viability when practical but not requiring any woman to carry to term). The reason for this is simple: bodily autonomy. Just like we don’t require someone to donate blood or a kidney to keep someone else alive we shouldn’t be requiring a woman to keep a fetus alive by using her blood supply and organs. It’s not about whether the fetus is a person, it’s about whether the woman is. The rights of a fetus should never trump the rights of a fully formed adult whose body is going to suffer from that pregnancy (and while some women have easier pregnancies than others it has a permanent effect on the body regardless).
If the fetus is not a person then this argument is nonsensical. If the fetus is a person then abortion is either justifiable homicide or self defense.
The case for justifiable homicide is simple: In most states, killing someone who enters your house illicitly is considered justified under “castle doctrine.” If it’s legal to kill someone who entered your house without your permission, how much moreso someone who entered your body without permission?
But there’s also a reasonable case to be made for self-defense. Consider this scenario: I invent a time machine and decide, for FSM knows what reason, that the best use of it would be to send someone back in time to 9/11/01 and make them land spacially in a random airplane or in the appropriate airport if their randomly chosen plane never took off because of the attacks. I attempt to trick, coerce, or force someone into getting into the time machine and thus into the risk of being in one of the planes that were hijacked on 9/11/01. Would said person be justified in fighting back? Their risk of dying would actually be quite low-assuming that 9/11/01 was planned as an average midweek day, the risk of flying on that day is about 4-5 x lower than the risk of completing a pregnancy in the US (about 3-4 per 100,000 versus about 14 per 100,000.) The numbers are publicly available if you want to repeat my analysis. Despite the reasonably good odds of survival, I doubt anyone would consider it anything other than self-defense if they killed me for trying to force them into the situation where they risked being on one of the hijacked planes. So if it is self defense to kill someone who is attempting to force you to take a 3-4 in 100,000 risk of dying, how can it not be self-defense to kill someone trying to force you to take a 14 in 100,000 risk of dying?
I will oppose actively killing (rather than passively refusing to help/donate organs) any human, whether that human is in a womb or on a death row.
So then you should be fine with techniques that simply cause the zygote, embryo, or fetus to be ejected from the uterus without killing it directly. Hormonal withdrawal and induction of labor, for example, are moderately commonly used techniques that don’t involve killing the embryo, just passively forbidding the use of the uterus to it. For that matter, an intact D and C shouldn’t actually kill the fetus per se, just remove it from the uterus before it is able to survive on its own. Just like disallowing use of one’s bone marrow or kidney.
Murder is not wrong simply because its the intentional killing of someone without a valid moral excuse which is simply reading what the law says. Take an armed robbery that turns into murder. It is immoral because simple desires like taking money from a cash register and such on the part of a murderer are outweighed by the avalanche of perhaps millions of desires (many of them very strong) ended by a bullet instantly. Also there are similar strong desires on the part of the victim’s loved ones, adding to what is an overwhelming landslide of desires that are terminated versus the few and weak desires of the robber. In other words so much net value (as that is what desires are) was taken from the world.
The case of abortion is exactly the opposite. Even if we grant that a fetus is a ‘person’ in some sense the desires present are in all probability – few and weak. Basic desires like continuing to live, feed, etc that are common to all life actually. When people with children tell me emphatically how much their lives changed and in how many ways I simply reverse this to find that a mother that wants to end her pregnancy has many and very strong desires to end it. So like above we have an avalanche of desires on the part of the woman versus the weak few desires of the fetus (potentially if we grant the personhood thing). Forcing her legally to go through with the pregnancy is to thwart all those desires in favor of the few weak ones on the other side of the balance sheet which is actually similar morally to the above murder. Making abortions illegal then, is more similar to murder from a ethical standpoint than keeping them legal.