Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A BRIEF NOTE ON ABORTION

When pro-choice individuals are asked the question of when in a pregnancy a human fetus requires recognition and protection, virtually all would agree that there needs to be a standard.  Without such a standard we could wind up on a slippery slope to euthanasia.  And I think most moral scholars agree that that would be a very dangerous position for society to assume. 

Importantly, most pro-choice individuals would also agree that reasonable people can differ as to how that standard should be drawn.  There is no obvious bright line, including conception.  After all, eggs and sperm are also human and living.  It is up to the social order to create a standard that can be applied clearly and that balances the interests of the pregnant woman versus the interests of a would-be child.  Personally, I think the Supreme Court did a good job of balancing those interests in Roe v. Wade in using a standard of viability.

But here's the thing.  Abortion foes generally do not admit that reasonable people can differ on the question of where the line should be drawn.  Their position generally is that human life begins at conception.  Period.  Why is that?  Why do abortion foes believe that there is a “bright line”?  


The fact is that virtually all opposition to early term abortion has a religious foundation.  What that means is that the rationale for opposition is not based on an analysis of what would be best for the social order, taking into account all of the competing interests as well as the longer term consequences for that social order.  Rather, the rationale is based on reliance on received authority, on a belief that that is what one’s god or one’s religion or one’s religious leaders have determined is right or wrong.  


Is that a problem?  I would argue that it is in the sense that laws should be based on what is best for the social order, not on what is dictated by religious dogma.  And it is where those perspectives diverge that problems arise.  The issue of abortion rights is a prime example of that.


© 2015 John M. Phillips

6 comments:

  1. To those who think their religion compels them to believe that human life begins at conception I would put two questions: 1) Given that the original and oldest of the Abrahamic religions believes that human life begins when a newborn takes its first breath, has God changed his mind since then? 2) If God wants us to believe that life begins at conception, why do as many as two-thirds of all fertilized eggs abort on their own? If God wanted a fertilized egg to result in a live birth, surely he could take care of this problem.

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    1. Yes. Excellent points. Further support for the position that there is no rational "bright line" on the question of at what point an unborn fetus deserves protection. In a sense each case presents its own unique set of facts to consider in weighing the rights of the fetus versus the rights of the pregnant woman. However, in the end society needs to establish standards for the general case to avoid the morass of complexities that would otherwise ensue. And that is what Roe v. Wade did.

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  3. John and Anonymous,

    You both mention significant points. Societal mores, religious edicts and any other logical rational used to argue for, or against, abortion should be moot points. It is no one's business but the woman who is carrying the fetus. There are no "one size fits all" rules which don't have exceptions. It is NOT a political issue; well, it should not be a political issue.
    If there is a god who issues demerits so be it, but no middle aged, white, male can know, nor should they legislate, what is right or wrong in matters of female reproduction.

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    1. Marci, I generally agree with you that abortion should be a decision for the woman carrying the fetus (along with the potential father, where appropriate). However, I would not feel right about a woman being able to abort a full term fetus. So I think a line has to be drawn somewhere, as I attempted to state in the essay.

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  4. Oops, spelling error...should be logical rationale. Sorry.

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