Anti-Abortion Argument #2: Abortion is murder

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).

So. Discuss!

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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.

Paul: 

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.

Jason Dick:

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?

Plunderb: 

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?

Katty: 

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… ;-)

Plunderb: 

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.

Gordon: 

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.

Niemand:

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).

Niemand:

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?

Niemand: 

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.

murollavan: 

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.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

    No. It isn’t. Murder is a legal term, meaning a person illegally killed. To clarify, while a soldier kills people, they do not murder them, so long as it is during combat.

    So if abortion is legal, by definition it is not murder.

  • Niemand

    Murder is murder. Firebombing clinics, harassing everyone from the doctor performing abortions to the landlord of the clinic, not to mention the kids and extended family of those involved is terrorism, and shooting people as they come out of church is murder. Abortion is, at worst, self-defense.

  • Paul

    Saying that it is murder is disingenuous for two reasons. First, and simply, it is manipulative rhetoric that will illicit an emotional response and not actually addressing any reasons for or against arresting the life of this person.

    The second reason it is disingenuous is because it is setting up a false dichotomy. 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.

    On a separate note, this argument of murder cannot even be used until the question of personhood is established in the first place. Just because we have not proven personhood does not exist for a fetus/zygote/embryo, does not imply that they do have it. It is completely logically fallacious to even begin to imply murder, and we shouldn’t allow fielding of such arguments until their presuppositions are addressed and settled. (I tried to make this not very ranty, but dealing with formal logic almost every day means that fallacies get under my skin…)

  • Jason Dick

    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?

    • Niemand

      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.

      Indeed, the Romanian experience should give anyone who cares about the survival of young women or even fetuses pause. That it doesn’t is one of the reasons I consider the anti-abortion movement to be about controlling women, not saving babies. Even if one took as a give that all zygotes, etc are babies.

      • victoria

        Agreed — Nicaragua too.

        Realizing that abortion bans didn’t “save babies” but did result in dead and maimed women was what started me on the path to being pro-choice as a teenager.

  • Saraquill

    If the loss of a zygote/embryo/fetus is murder, then that means women who miscarry are criminals. Likewise, those who conceive/deliver babies with congenital defects or have premature births should be arrested for causing significant harm. A woman who dies before a fetus is viable is also guilty of killing.

    I find the above scenarios hugely distasteful, but a logical extension of “abortion is murder.”

    • PAgirl

      A miscarriage is not the intentional termination of a pregnancy/killing of a zygote/embryo/fetus, but abortion is intentional. That is why abortion is equated to murder.

      • Niemand

        What if the miscarriage occurred in a woman with a known hypercoaguable state who refused lovenox, smoked, ate raw cheese, and went skydiving into the third trimester? (To throw in all the risks I can think of right off.) W0uldn’t that be at least reckless endangerment? Surely then every miscarriage needs to be investigated…Would you like your taxes raised to pay for these investigations or enforcement of other laws such as those against murder, theft, and rape decreased so that the police can concentrate on making sure a given miscarriage wasn’t criminal?

  • Judy L.

    Abortion doesn’t meet the legal criteria for murder, and I would argue that it doesn’t meet the moral criteria either. I don’t believe in appealing to dictionary definitions, but murder generally has the following features:
    The killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority.

    Women do not abort their fetuses with malice aforethought (unless they’re sociopathic and are doing it to exact some kind of revenge on someone else, and if a woman is maliciously aborting her fetus I would argue that her sanity must be called into question) and women have the legal excuse and authority to remove living tissue from their body even if that tissue is a genetically distinct whole organism and even when the removal of that organism will result in its death.

    The things that we do to ourselves have no moral content. If we abuse our own bodies, that abuse has negative consequences for us, is generally not the sign of a happy mind and it might worry those who care about us, but it has no moral content. If we abuse someone else’s body, then moral evaluation kicks in, because it is a trangression against another person’s right to not be abused and if our actions are the result of intent or negligence, we can attach a moral valuation to the actions by describing them as evil or cruel or reckless or criminally negligent. I can’t provide unassailable arguments to support my intuition, but my intuition is that abortion is an act that a woman performs on her own body (or consents to having performed on her own body). My intuition is that a woman’s fetus is both in and of her body until it is no longing living in her body and anything she does to her fetus she is doing to herself, which means that those actions have no moral content. (This intuition and argument does not deny or devalue the very real relationships that women have with their children-in-utero.)

    • piny

      This isn’t really right–”malice” is “evil intention,” as in, you’re intending to kill them, not that you hate them or believe they deserve to die. You can kill someone casually, or for cold-blooded impersonal reasons, and still be guilty of murder. If you murdered someone because you wanted them out of your father’s will, say: you might think your stepmother a perfectly lovely person, but you’d still want her dead, and you’d still be guilty of first-degree murder if you put rat poison in her mimosa.

      I think abortion isn’t murder because a fetus isn’t a person. I think pro-lifers don’t see fetuses as persons. They see them as punishments, part of another moral calculus. And I think the argument falls apart on those grounds. When you consider the rape and incest exceptions most pro-lifers accept, for example. You wouldn’t allow a woman to commit infanticide if her child were the product of rape, because you don’t see a living child (or any other human person) as a consequence of bad sexual behavior. Or take their insistence that abortion providers but not women “victimized” by abortion go to jail. A woman who committed infanticide would never be off the hook by statute: this is because pro-lifers, like pro-choicers, at heart recognize that infants are different from fetuses. They don’t see women who get abortions–that’s a lot of women!–as child-murderers. People have very different reactions to actual child-murderers. They don’t stop at haranguing them.

      And if dying children really were at issue here, we’d all live in a very different world, with different “pro-lifers” to people it, don’t you think?

      • Judy L.

        Cold-blooded impersonal killing of a human being is, by definition, malicious. It doesn’t matter whether you think the object of your murderous intent is a perfectly lovely person. Hate is not required to form ‘malice aforethought’ which is the fancy legal term for ‘premeditation’. One of the reasons that certain killings that might qualify as murder are called second or third degree murder or manslaughter (either involuntary or voluntary) is because they lack some of all of the premeditation of first degree murder. Most murders are not planned, they are committed “in the heat of moment” (rather than calculated and in cold blood) and we call these sorts of murders “crimes of passion”, by which we mean intense emotion, suddenly and within the moment.

        I think your analysis about how pro-life arguments fall apart when it comes to rape and incest exceptions for abortion is dead-on, and your infanticide scenario is a brilliant example. I’ve always had a problem with the pro-life concession to rape and incest because when they allow for these exceptions, they’re saying that there is a qualitative difference among fetuses according to their mode of creation, and that it’s okay to abort some fetuses but not others and the only reasoning they ever seem to offer is that they’re being compassionate and charitable to a woman who has suffered. But if a fetus is a person and has rights to life then the mode of conception of that fetus shouldn’t change that personhood status or right to life, regardless of any trauma its mother has experienced. As you said, it exposes the pro-life-with-exceptions position as really being about holding women at fault for choosing to have sex and making them ‘live with the consequences’, punishing them for ‘sin’ through enforced pregnancy and childbirth.

        Of course, more and more we’re seeing right-wingers doubling down on their no-abortion (and no contraception) positions: declaring that there should be no exceptions for rape, life or health of the mother, fatal congenital diseases or deformities of the fetus, missed abortion (miscarriage where a pregnancy stops developing but has not been expelled by the body) or any other reason. And rather than show compassion for a woman by not forcing her to carry and birth the child conceived via her rape, they give her the good news that her fetus is a special gift from God that she should, or if they had their way MUST, welcome and embrace. They reduce women to walking incubators that must suffer the ‘natural’ processes of pregnancy and miscarriage or childbirth even if it kills them, but only the most extreme among them would refuse medical intervention to prevent their own wives or their own selves from dying in childbirth or dying from sepsis as the result of not removing a missed abortion. There’s a strong streak of hypocrisy among the Religious Right because for them it matters only what they believe, not what they do, because they’ve been saved and all past and future sins will be forgiven as long as they have faith, so they can just go right on telling others to do as they say and not as they do.

      • Lee

        One of the arguments that shows me most that anti-abortion is actually about controlling women and punishing sexuality is the one where they argue against what you call ‘missed abortions’– where a dead fetus is stuck inside its mother’s body. An abortion would remove the dead tissue that endangers the health of the mother, and certainly there is no value to keeping that tissue– unless you believe in punishing women for sexuality. If I had a tumor in my uterus, these people would agree that I should be able to remove it, even if it is benign– but if this lump of nonliving tissue is a result of sex, suddenly it is ‘unnatural’ and against God for me to remove it. If anyone holds this position I immediately cease to give them benefit of the doubt on truly being “pro-life” in the sense of caring about fetuses they see as fully human. This position in particular is one that makes no sense except in the context of controlling women. (The abortion-only-in-case-of-rape-and-incest comes close, but is still not as jarringly disturbing.)

  • SophieUK

    Another extension of the arguments is surely this: If abortion is murder then can we prosecute a woman for being overweight when pregnant, given this puts the “child”‘s health and development at risk? Is this neglect/mistreatment/abuse?

    • piny

      This is a good argument, but it doesn’t work because you’re still putting the burden on the women. You have to impose a ridiculous level of hardship on someone else, preferably a man who is not pregnant: “Can we prosecute an employer for murder or child abuse if he fires a pregnant woman, given that he has put her nutrition and emotional wellbeing at risk?” “Can we prosecute a factory owner for child abuse if his pollutants are known to cause birth defects or miscarriage, given that he is harming children in utero?”

  • http://fidesquaerens.livejournal.com Marta Layton

    I’m honestly not sure why this is separated from the last article. If abortion involves the killing of a person, then it seems reasonable to judge it by the same standards as the killing of born persons. You know, exceptions for self-defense (i.e. abortion to save mother’s life) and non-intentional killings (i.e. miscarriages) but in the absence of such extenuating factors it would seem that abortion is murder – if the fetus is a person. My point is that your approach to this charge really relies on your answer to the other question, so that you can’t decide if it’s murder without first deciding if it’s a person.

    There is one other issue worth mentioning. I’m not quite sure how abortion actually works, but I can imagine several types where it wouldn’t be murder even if the fetus is a question. If the abortion keeps the fetus from implanting or separates it from the mother’s body post-implantation, that’s not directly killing the fetus. It’s depriving the fetus what it needs to survive – nutrients from the mother’s body, which it needs to survive but has no moral right to. (A squatter in my house has a right to life, but I am under no obligation to offer him the use of my pantry.) This would be different from directly attacking the fetus, and I think a case could be made under the doctrine of double effects – you knew the fetus was going to die as a result of your action, but it’s not the intended consequence, so it’s not immoral. (No more than carpet-bombing a city in a war with the intent of ending the war early, knowing some innocent civilians will die, at any rate.)

    • Judy L.

      Most surgical abortions are one of the following two procedures, the second of which is performed for later-term abortions (16+ weeks) and may include the killing of the fetus in-utero before its removal (see below, taken from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/abortion/in-clinic-abortion-procedures-4359.asp)
      ASPIRATION ABORTION — THE MOST COMMON KIND OF IN-CLINIC ABORTION
      During an aspiration abortion
      Your health care provider will examine your uterus.
      You will get medicine for pain. You may be offered sedation — a medicine that allows you to be awake but deeply relaxed.
      A speculum will be inserted into your vagina.
      Your health care provider may inject a numbing medication into or near your cervix.
      The opening of your cervix may be stretched with dilators — a series of increasingly thick rods. Or you may have absorbent dilators inserted a day or a few hours before the procedure. They will absorb fluid and get bigger. This slowly stretches open your cervix. Medication may also be used with or without the dilators to help open your cervix.
      You will be given antibiotics to prevent infection.
      A tube is inserted through the cervix into the uterus.
      Either a hand-held suction device or a suction machine gently empties your uterus.
      Sometimes, an instrument called a curette is used to remove any remaining tissue that lines the uterus. It may also be used to check that the uterus is empty. When a curette is used, people often call the abortion a D&C — dilation and curettage.

      An aspiration procedure takes about 5 to 10 minutes. But more time may be needed to prepare your cervix. Time is also needed for talking with your provider about the procedure, a physical exam, reading and signing forms, and a recovery period of about one hour.

      D&E — DILATION AND EVACUATION
      During a D&E

      Your health care provider will examine you and check your uterus.
      You will get medication for pain. You may be offered sedation or IV medication to make you more comfortable.
      A speculum will be inserted into your vagina.
      Your cervix will be prepared for the procedure. You may be given medication or have absorbent dilators inserted a day or a few hours before the procedure. They will absorb fluid and grow bigger. This slowly stretches open your cervix.
      You will be given antibiotics to prevent infection.
      In later second-trimester procedures, you may also need a shot through your abdomen to make sure there is fetal demise before the procedure begins.
      Your health care provider will inject a numbing medication into or near your cervix.
      Medical instruments and a suction machine gently empty your uterus.

      A D&E usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. But more time is needed to prepare your cervix. Time is also needed for talking with your provider about the procedure, a physical exam, reading and signing forms, and a recovery period of about one hour.

    • Judy L.

      Marta – I agree that for abortion to be murder the fetus must be determined to be a legal person. But while it’s necessary that the fetus be a person for killing it to be murder, it isn’t sufficient for killing it be murder.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I put them separately because of the pro-choice argument that, even if it is a person, abortion should still be permissible because the fetus resides within a woman’s body. It’s the bodily autonomy argument, that basically says “I don’t care whether it’s a person, it’s my body!”

      • Judy L.

        The bodily autonomy argument isn’t basically “I don’t care whether it’s a person, it’s my body” but rather “It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s a person, a woman has a pre-existing right to bodily autonomy and that right isn’t trumped by any right that the fetus might have.”

  • http://fidesquaerens.livejournal.com Marta Layton

    Btw: I saw above that someone says murder is a legal construct. I’d say it’s a moral lone as well. My working definition goes something like

    murder: the intentional killing of a person, without sufficient extenuating circumstances (e.g., self-defense, a necessary means to some greater end, etc.)

    • http://fidesquaerens.livejournal.com Marta Layton

      *moral one, not moral lone

  • Plunderb

    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?

    • Katty

      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.., ;-)

      • Niemand

        Whether or not the castle doctrine has merit*-and I think your argument that it doesn’t is strong-it’s on the books in something like 45 or so states in the US. So, at least in the US, saying that it’s justifiable to shoot someone who is in your house (as the law does, whatever the morality of the situation) but not to kill an entity that is literally sucking your blood and damaging your body (as the law does especially in the later, more dangerous parts of the pregnancy) is blatantly ridiculous. And only even considered because less powerful people (women) are the ones who suffer from it.

        *I tend to think that these laws are for a combination of historical reasons and mass psychology. In the past, in many parts of the US, one simply couldn’t count on the police to get there before a violent home invader killed you and there might be literally no reasonably safe place to run to for miles around so killing them might be the only option that allowed you to survive. This is not true of the vast majority of the US today–though I wouldn’t count on having many options in the rural southwest–but the US heavily indoctrinates on the idea of individuality and self-sufficiency so that people want to feel that they could and should be able to defend themselves without reference to the authorities. But I’d best stop here before this footnote gets out of control**.
        **I know, I know. Too late.

      • plunderb

        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.

      • Katty

        Haha, you are of course right, Niemand, I’ll just have to accept the reality of this doctrine. This is, after all, a discussion about abortion rights in the US first and foremost and so the legal framework in the US should definitely be taken into account. And since we are on the same side so to speak, I have no problem conceding this point ;-)

        Plunder – what you are saying is really interesting to me, because I have been thinking about this same issue of where one person’s individual rights end and another person’s begin. Only I was thinking of the woman aborting the fetus as the one swinging the fist, not the other way round. I do however get what you’re saying so thanks for the new perspective to ponder.

        I guess what it comes down to is that for me personally it all hinges on the question of when the fetus becomes a baby. But while that would be my moral yardstick if I ever had to make the decision to abort or not (with obvious exceptions if my life was in danger or the fetus not viable), different perspectives are obviously just as valid and it is quite honestly disgusting to me that some people apparently believe women incapable of making that judgement themselves!
        OK, went on a rant there, sorry – will stop now!

    • Anonymouse

      Great point–the “Stand your ground” defense worked for a man who assassinated a teenager who was packing Skittles.

  • Sam 240

    For something to be made illegal, there must be a penalty for doing it. Otherwise, the law has no force.

    Now, let us imagine that a new father, one month after his child’s birth, hires Eddie the Friendly Neighborhood Hit Man to kill the newborn. This is premeditated murder, and the prosecutors should throw the book at him. Likewise, if abortion is premeditated murder, we should throw the book at a woman who gets an abortion. At the very least, the woman should get several years in jail.

    I can think of two leaders who, when they made abortion illegal, required that women who had abortions be sent to jail for a period of several years. One of them was named Hitler, and the other was named Stalin. Therefore, if abortion is murder, then the United States ought to follow in the footsteps of Hitler and Stalin.

  • K S

    A thought experiment:

    First, let us assume Amy is an adult conjoined twin. Beth is the other twin. Assume that separating the twins is fairly low-risk for Amy but means Beth will die. If you allow the assumption that a fetus is a human being, in every sense of the word, just as much as the mother, separation then is similar to abortion, where you imagine Amy as being in the role of the mother and Beth in the role of the fetus. I don’t know a ton about the science or medical aspects of conjoined twins, so I apologize if there are parts of this that aren’t accurate for conjoined twins – I simply want to use it as a thought experiment to try to better view this argument.

    So under what circumstances would it be ethical for the separation to take place? First, I imagine it would be considered not only ethical, but almost required, if a lack of separation meant that both Amy and Beth would almost certainly die. So even if you allow that a fetus is a person, abortion should be allowed if the life of both mother and fetus are seriously threatened and an abortion would almost certainly save the life of the mother. Thus, even if you allow a fetus is a person, you should never make a blanket ban on abortion.

    Let’s add another dimension. Let’s say Beth is so severely cognitively impaired that she is essentially brain dead, in a vegetative state, capable only of breathing and digesting. She is incapable of feeling pain, fear, love, or happiness. This could be similar to an early pregnancy, with very little development of the nervous system. How far, then, does Amy’s life have to be threatened or impaired before a separation would be ethical? What if Amy is essentially bedridden so long as she is attached to Beth, and Amy desires to actually have a life, go to college, spend time with friends and family? What if Amy suffers side effects from being attached to Beth that make her severely depressed? What if Amy is under serious chronic pain, or other health issues, that would be relieved by separation? I would consider this primarily an issue to be left to Amy, her doctors, and possibly her family to decide.

    One more aspect: the “potential” of a fetus. Most people who buy the abortion-is-murder-because-it-is-a-human argument would say that the fetus is really and totally a human, not just a potential human. Those people would be restricted to stopping at the above paragraph, because the fetus must then be evaluated as it is, not in regard to its potential. However, some might argue that the potential of a fetus to become a grown human – with independent agency, thoughts, feelings, etc – is what would make the fetus different from Beth in the above paragraph. In that case, I would then want to ask about what that potential is, and how likely. Imagine Beth is severely cognitively impaired, as in the above paragraph, but could possibly improve. How much improvement, and how much chance, would be necessary for Amy to not undergo separation? A 10% chance of improving to a having merely severe mental retardation? A 50% chance? Then consider how many pregnancies are lost before the mother ever knows she is pregnant – something like 40% to 60%. I would argue that an embryo, at the moment of conception, has less rights compared to the mother than Beth compared to Amy, given the lack of function of the embryo and the potential for the embryo to either not survive at all or be otherwise non-functional.

    Finally, I read a great analysis recently, that I can’t seem to find, on someone else’s blog about the difficulties of legally making exceptions to an abortion ban. Please link if you know where it is! :) So if it is nearly impossible to create workable legal exceptions, and if there are ethical exceptions EVEN IF you assume a fetus is human, the best legal scenario would still be a middle-of-the-road – perhaps no requirements for very early abortions, some legal requirements later in the pregnancy, and more stringent legal requirements to prove an exception in very late pregnancy, paired with a strong sex education program and great, easy access to contraceptives.

    Of course, this is all assuming (as the post stated) that a fetus is fully human – something most pro-choice advocates don’t agree with.

    • Judy L.

      Hey K S, just a couple of comments on your terrific post:

      A fetus is fully human…unless of course it was conceived with alien DNA. ; ) And I would never argue with a woman that her relationship with her fetus is a relationship with another person. But these are biological and emotional definitions, not legal ones.

      I don’t think rabid pro-lifers oppose abortion because they regard fetuses as persons, but rather because they don’t see a difference between a fetus and a baby, and babies inspire the instinctual protective and caregiver instincts that are part of our socio-biological endowment as primates. Or at least that’s my generous assumption; I’m sure a lot of pro-lifers oppose abortion because their church tells them it’s wrong and/or they think of enforced pregnancy and childbirth as the proper punishment for slutty sluts who want to have fun but escape ‘the consequences of their sin’.

      I quite like your thought experiment, and I am a big fan of thought experiments that attempt to set up analogous scenarios that aim to help people reason their way through their intuitions and sometimes even result in people realizing that their intuitions are not rational, realistic, or defensible. However, thought experiments are not arguments, they’re exercises (and sometimes really good exercises that get us to stretch and wrap our minds around ideas we never thought of before and in ways we never did before). But we mustn’t (and by we I mean the readers of this blog) fall into the trap of assuming that we can simply transfer our conclusions about one scenario to another when they are not perfectly analogous (a mother and her fetus are not conjoined twins), and while the thought experiment has tremendous value in its own right, it isn’t necessary to sorting out our intuitions concerning abortion (or in the case of this specific thread, our intuitions about whether or not abortion is murder). Having said that, I want to reiterate that your thought experiment scenario is awesome and it does raise many of the issues that people believe drive their beliefs about abortion (bodily autonomy, biological dependency, the value of life according to its quality rather than its mere existence, etc.) and is a good exercise for anyone who wants to explore their feelings about some of these issues divorced from the passions and prejudices they may have about abortion. :D

      I’ve worked with Ob/Gyns and there are stringent legal requirements for later-term abortions, and one of those requirements is getting approved for such an abortion by the very few doctors who provide late-term abortion services (the murdered Dr. Tiller was one of them). Usually women have to go out of State or even to another country for a late-term abortion, even if abortion isn’t illegal where they live because there are so few abortion providers who have the special skills required to perform these kinds surgical abortion. Not all medical schools teach abortion, which is a bit odd because it’s one of the safest medical procedures and one of the most common procedures performed on women and because early-term abortions can be safely performed by doctors who have trained in the procedure but who aren’t Ob/Gyn specialists. Certainly the problem of access to abortion services in the U.S. in compounded by a lack of doctors who are able and willing to provide abortion services because of conscientious objection* or because of well-founded fear of themselves and their clinic staff and families being targeted for harassment, intimidation, assault, or murder by anti-abortion terrorists. A lot of these dangers could be prevented if abortion services were available in more hospitals rather than clinics in the U.S. because abortion protesters wouldn’t know why a patient or a staff person is going into a hospital, so they wouldn’t know who exactly to picket or harass and they’d have to deal with endangering the lives of all patients and hospital staff when they firebomb the hospital. Don’t get me wrong, Planned Parenthood is awesome, but the privacy that a hospital provides would go a long way to frustrate the activities of anti-abortion terrorists.

      *Obviously no doctor should be compelled to perform abortions in their regular practice, but in an emergency where the life of a woman is being threatened by the pregnancy itself, a doctor trained in abortion has a duty to not withhold treatment. We wouldn’t tolerate an ER doctor refusing to provide care for a patient injured in a motorcycle accident because the doctor disapproves of motorcycles, thinks they’re dangerous and believes that motorcyclists should be forced to live with the consequences of their reckless behaviour. I find it beyond appalling that several States in the U.S. allow some pharmacists to refuse to do their jobs by not dispensing legal medication that they disapprove of (i.e. Plan B).

  • Rae

    Another thing, that I have heard elsewhere on the internet: If abortion is murder, then…
    …could abortion due to threat to the mother’s life be considered self-defense?
    …could a woman who conceives, knowing a high risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or fatal physical problems with the fetus, be charged with criminally negligent homicide if that does happen?
    …could even abortion to avoid the negative but non-fatal physical side effects be considered a form of self-defense?
    …could women who do things that are not recommended during pregnancy, such as drinking, smoking, consuming caffeine, dying their hair, etc., be charged with endangering the welfare of a child?
    …even if they don’t know that they could be pregnant, on the basis that as a sexually active adult woman, they could be pregnant?
    ….could establishments such as bars, amusement parks, and so on, be allowed to refuse service to all women, on the basis that almost all adult women have had sex, and they don’t want to possibly be responsible for the death of a fetus?
    …would pregnant women be required to only sit in certain places in vehicles, so that airbags might not endanger their fetus?

  • Andrew G.

    As mentioned tangentially in the previous argument thread, this one is an instance of what’s been labelled by some as the “noncentral fallacy”:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/e95/the_marginal_fallacy_the_worst_argument_in_the/

    • Judy L.

      Thanks for the link, Andrew; that was a good read. :) (You reading this now, click on the link and go read it!)

  • Gordon

    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 think that if we grant the intent of the premise the solution would not be no abortions, it would be that the embryos could need to harvested and frozen until a surrogate volunteers to carry them to term. Of course I imagine that the “Pro life” crowd will not be queuing round the block to deliver these “babies” so I guess most would stay frozen forever.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      I’ve kind of had similar thoughts, though I still have one problem–method of extraction. The procedure to remove a still-living embryo would have to be performed with the woman’s consent, and if she decides that’s not her preferred method for ending the pregnancy she has that right (especially since short of developing teleportation technology I can’t imagine it being remotely simple).

  • Ariel

    Maintaining a pregnancy may not be under conscious control (you can’t wish yourself a miscarriage), but it is still an active process. The woman’s body actively expands to allow for the fetus’s presence, diverts nutrients to the placenta, turns down the immune system to avoid fighting off the intruder, etc. etc. The choices are not active killing and passive noninterference, as in a murder; the choices are active abortion and active support. Thus, while abortion is active killing, since the alternative is also active, it cannot be compared to murder, where the alternative is passive noninterference.

  • Niemand

    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?

  • murollavan

    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.

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