Is abortion “wrong”?
Recently Chuck has emailed me quotes from various political figures including liberals, saying that abortion is “wrong”. While these are interesting snapshots of where these figures stood on the question as some point in their careers – many are from the 80’s – they don’t persuasively argue that abortion is either right or wrong, just that politicians are sometimes forced to make statements on issues which they may contradict later.
So, is abortion “wrong”? My answer is that the question is wrong – it skips over the reality of abortion and it is directed at the wrong person. Let me explain.
Opponents to abortion based their opposition on their claim that abortion kills a human child, unborn in the womb. Are they right? To explore this we have to answer two fundamental questions:
1. Is the fetus a human child?
To answer that ,we have to define “human”. The dictionary definition of “human” is: a bipedal primate mammal of the genus Homo (H. sapiens). Characteristics of humans include (from various wiki sources):
Humans have a highly developed brain and are capable of abstract reasoning, language,introspection, and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the hands for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other living species on Earth. Other higher-level thought processes of humans, such as self-awareness, rationality, and sapience, are considered to be defining features of what constitutes a “person“.
Humans are uniquely adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization. Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families and kinship networks, to nations.Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values,social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society.
Various species of animals exhibit one or more of these traits, but none we know of exhibit them all, although some argue that whales and dolphins exhibit similarly developed traits appropriate to their environment, but that does not make them human.
But does a fetus exhibit these traits? The answer is “no”. A fetus does not use tools, create complex social structure , communicate, express social norms, or any of the other traits science uses to separate humans from non-human animals. By this definition, a fetus is not human or a human child. It may at some time later, but as a fetus, it clearly does not.
2. Does a fetus have a soul?
But religious leaders reject this answer and argue that it misses the defining element of a human, the possession of a soul. They argue that a fetus is made by God and endowed with a soul and that God only endows humans with souls, so it must be a human. But there is a lack of agreement on this point. Christians and Jews and some other faiths argue that only humans have souls. Buddhists argue every living creature has a soul. Hindus agree that humans have souls, but they argue that the soul of a human during is re-incarnation journey can inhabit creatures other than homo sapiens. Pagan religions argue that the earth is itself a soul, or that souls exist without humans (ghosts, ancestor spirits).
Additionally, religions do not agree on when a soul enters a fetus. In one extreme of the Christian world, and in some other sects, it is argued that the soul enters the egg the second it is fertilized – the so-called “personhood theory”. Others argue that it enters the fetus at birth, or when the fetus can live independent of the mother, or that we just can’t tell, but it is there at some point.
The bottom line is that a “soul” and its existence in the fetus is a matter of religious belief and religions do not agree on what a soul is, who has it, when it enters the fetus and even if it is exclusive to humans. More important, none of this can be proven, so the existence of a soul and its possession by a fetus is purely a matter of faith.
3. If the fetus is not a human, then what is it?
Excellent question. The president of Operation Rescue answered that question on our show by stating, correctly, that a fetus has a different DNA signature from the woman carrying it. This puts to rest the assertion by me and others, that the fetus is simply a part of the woman’s body – I was wrong. But it is a distinction without a difference. Every virus and bacteria in her body also has a different DNA signature, but not only do we not claim they are human and cannot be removed or killed. In fact we have created a multibillion dollar industry dedicated to removing and killing those we don’t like. The distinct DNA signature of a fetus does not necessarily mean that it should be or not be treated differently than a virus or bacteria when it comes to the question of right or wrong in removing it.
But this does not answer the question, “if not human, what is it?” It is clearly not a virus or bacteria, and, even though it meets the classical definition of a parasite (an organism living within another from which it draws nutrients), no one would call a fetus a parasite. So what is it? The answer lies in history.
Historically, not all pregnancies come to term, that is, result in a human baby. In fact– as far back As we have written or oral records, miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths have been a fact of life. They are a common fact of modern life. In 1996, the CDC reported that 16% of pregnancies resulted in miscarriages or still births. The American Pregnancy Association reports that the figure now may be as high 25%. This means that when a egg is fertilized, it has a 75% -84% possibility of becoming a human child. A fetus is a potential human being that may or may not ever be an actual human being.
Who can decide
But this does not answer the question “is abortion ‘wrong’?”. If the fetus is not a human, but only a potential human that sometime in the future may become a human, then abortion is by definition, not murder because it is not killing a human child. But some religions argue that it is murder because the fetus has a soul and meets the Christian definition (and some other religions) of human. But a “soul” cannot be seen, felt, heard or measured in any way. Additionally, different religions define it differently and there is no agreement on when, if ever, it enters a fetus making it human. It is purely a matter of faith.
Given that the fetus is does not meet the scientific definition of a human, but a only of a potential human, and that religions can neither prove nor even agree on the fetus’s possession of a soul, no one can objectively, conclusively conclude that a fetus is a human child. Therefor no person, religion, legislator nor law can dictate that abortion is murder and therefore “wrong”.
But someone has to make a decision when an abortion is performed. As a society of humans, we demand that someone has to take responsibility for decisions of life and death and for their rightness or wrongness. That is part of the definition of being human (see above). I argue that the only person who can make that decision and determine its rightness or wrongness is the one person we – society, religion and law – has left out of this discussion: the woman carrying the child.
She and only she can determine if the decision is right or wrong.
She is the person who must live with the decision, whatever it is. It is her faith that she must follow in making her decision. She is the one whose blood flows through the fetus in a kind of communication that only she can understand. Only she knows if her decision is right or wrong.
And it is no one else’s business to intervene in that decision or to criticize her for it.