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The Logic of Abortion

One of the key motivations for many voters is the question of whether or not abortion should remain a legal right in the United States. Acknowledging that there will probably never be a consensus on this issue, I think the arguments made by the so-called “pro-life” faction should be examined and responded to. They fall into four categories: 1) That it is murder, 2) that it is cruel, 3) that it is unconstitutional and a violation of the 14th Amendment, and 4) that it results in negative social impacts on our culture.

The first of these arguments rests entirely on definition. Murder is the unlawful taking of the life of a human being. Only in rare instances is a fetus given legal status, in as much as the term “human being” is a philosophical construct. Descartes’ “I think therefore I am’’ is underscored by biology: The cerebral cortex of a fetus does not develop until well into the second trimester. No cortex, no self-awareness, ergo, no human being.

Similarly, the claim that fetuses feel pain during the abortion procedure is questionable since pain, as a self-aware reflective capacity, cannot exist with mere brain-stem development. And when anti-choice activists warn that abortions cause psychological damage and emotional pain for the mother, their arguments are based on a few studies whose results are open to interpretation. Ironically, these opponents never mention the mental health of women forced into delivery prior to Roe vs. Wade or those who endured physical traumas, including death, from back-alley abortions.

Claiming that the Supreme Court got it wrong when it determined that women had a Constitutional right to privacy carries at its core more than a tinge of the latent misogyny of our Founding Fathers who saw women as 2nd class citizens. Nor does linking abortion to the idea that it conflicts with the equal protection of rights for all citizens guaranteed under the 14th Amendment make sense unless fetal citizenship is ever established under the law.

But, perhaps the least convincing voices against abortion are those who offer a series of cultural concerns that are infantilizing and/or are examples of non-sequitur reasoning. In the former category are statements to the effect that women should not be able to use abortion as a form of contraception, and that if a woman becomes pregnant, she should accept the responsibility that comes with producing a child. In other words, many women do not act responsibly and must therefore be made to live with the consequences of their behaviors, either as a form of punishment and/or as a way to teach them a lesson in social morality.

This version of reality in which women are unable to make informed decisions about their reproductive health is closely echoed in the specious argument that abortions reduce the number of adoptable babies. How this is in any way relevant to the question of a woman having personal control over her own body is a highly questionable to begin with, but when combined with the fact that thousands of babies go parentless in the best of times, it makes such objections to fetal termination nonsensical.

I have, up to this point, not advanced the oft stated opinion that abortion is against God’s will. The reason for ignoring this “argument” is simple: It is a matter of religious belief, not any kind of fact. For those women who hold to it, the option of not having that procedure is already there. But for those who do not share that belief let me say this: Whether a human fetus actually develops into a human being is dependent on numerous variables which determine if it lives to be viable and then ultimately delivered into this world.

Now consider, the rate of miscarriages in the United States alone (among those who know they are pregnant) is 10-20% and may occur up through the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. If a human being is defined as being formed at conception, the rate of zygote deaths averages 30-50%. If we include in the definition those fertilized eggs that fail to implant, the rate of miscarriages is estimated to be as high as 75%. It seems to me that by the very standards posited by “pro-life” advocates who base their arguments on their interpretation of the will of God, this would make an omnipotent Deity a murderer because He would have caused these deaths to occur.

Of course, this is an opinion, and while it may seem insulting to those who might refuse to see it that way, it is no more offensive than telling a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy that she is doing evil in God’s eyes. None of us is qualified to speak for the Deity, and nobody has the right to judge what a person’s choices are when she makes them in accordance with her conscience, her doctor, her partner, and her God.

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