This is part 2 of a series of posts exploring pro-life arguments. Read Part 1 here.
6. What’s the big deal about traveling down the birth canal?
The big deal is that before that process, only the mother could support the baby. Afterwards, it breathes and eats on its own. The baby could then be taken away and never see its mother again and grow up quite healthy. Before, the mother was mandatory; after, she’s unnecessary.
I’m not arguing that abortion should be legal up until delivery, though others do, and that has created this argument. I’m simply arguing that birth is a big deal. I’m not arguing for any definition of when abortion should become illegal. My main point has simply been that the personhood of the fetus increases from single cell through newborn, which makes abortion arguable.
7. It’s a human from conception through adulthood! The DNA doesn’t change. What else would that single cell be—a sponge? A zebra? (OK, if you don’t like “human,” let’s use “person.”) No—person means the same thing as human!
This name game is a common way to avoid the issue. I don’t care what you call the spectrum as long as we use names that make clear what the newborn has that the single cell doesn’t.
The only thing that connects the two ends of the spectrum is the Homo sapiens DNA. This pro-life argument devolves into an argument from potential. Sure, the single cell will be a baby in nine months. Get back to me then, and we’ll have something to celebrate. At the other end of the spectrum, however, it ain’t a baby.
Yes, a single cell has the potential to make a baby. So does the lustful idea that pops into a guy’s head. Neither is a baby.
I wonder at the pro-life advocate getting misty-eyed at the thought of that single microscopic cell. A eukaryotic cell with one strand of Homo sapiens DNA—wow. They wouldn’t get excited if it were the cell of a slug or a banana, but because it’s human, somehow that’s so fabulous that not only do they get choked up about it, but they demand that the rest of us do the same.
8. What if the mother wanted to abort because the fetus had green eyes or was female or would likely be gay?
This is a red herring. How many cases are we talking about? Abortion to increase the fraction of male babies is done in India and China, but this isn’t a meaningful issue in the U.S. (And in the third world, ask yourself if infanticide would be the alternative if abortion was denied.)
Abortions for capricious or shallow reasons also aren’t the issue. Mothers-to-be have plenty of noble instincts to judge what is appropriate so that society can rest assured that the right thing will usually be done. (If you balk at the “usually,” remember that that’s how society’s laws work. They’re not perfect, and we can only hope that they’re usually on target.) We can certainly talk about the few special cases where a woman’s actions seem petty, but don’t let that change abortion rights for the majority.
The woman who aborts for some trivial reason would likely be a terrible mother. Let’s let a woman who isn’t mature enough to take care of a baby opt out.Consider how society treats parents. There is a wide variety of parenting styles, but most parents are decent and loving. We have the laws, police, and social services to remove children from abusive households, but the parents get the benefit of the doubt. Similarly, the instincts of the pregnant woman are on target in most cases. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt as well. In the domain of parenting, we start with, “You are a good parent.” That’s the null hypothesis. And the null hypothesis in the abortion debate is, “You know what’s best for you and your fetus.”
9. Abortions are dangerous!
Not really. The chance of maternal death from delivering a baby is 14 times higher than through abortion. This is what you’d expect, since the fetus only gets bigger (and more dangerous to deliver) with time. Of course, this statistic will change if abortion is made illegal and more dangerous. Does Kermit Gosnell scare you? That’s what an America with illegal abortion would look like.
There is no indication that abortion is a risk factor for cancer or women’s mental health.
10. Murder is wrong because it takes away a future like mine. If we found intelligent humanoids like us on another planet, killing them for sport would be wrong for this reason. And this is why abortion is wrong—it takes away a future like mine. (This is Glenn Peoples’ “Argument from the Future.”)
Why focus on the future? Assuming these humanoids are largely unchanging month to month, like people, killing them for sport takes away a present like mine. I assume Peoples focuses on the future only because he has no argument otherwise. A two-week-old fetus doesn’t have much of a life (yet).
But let’s take the path that Peoples points us to. Killing a fetus would deprive it of a future like mine, but so would killing a single skin cell, once they are clonable into humans. Would it then a crime to scratch your skin? Or, let’s take it further back. Suppose I have two kids. Was it criminal to not have three? Or four? Or fifteen? I’ve deprived those people-to-be of life.
Extrapolating back to the twinkle in my eye, saying that we have a person deserving of life at every step is ridiculous. But the facts fit neatly and logically into the spectrum argument.
Continue with Part 3.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believes that
the mother has an overwhelming stake in her own pregnancy,
and to be forced to give birth to a child against her will
— Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) source
(This is a modified version of a post originally published 1/20/12.)
Photo credit: Slate