The pro-choice argument rests on one main concern: that of the rights and needs of the women affected by imposed limitations. I plan to show how understanding the realities of this issue supports granting women full freedom to choose to end their pregnancies. The issue of the ‘humanity’ of the fetus will be mostly be ignored, because it isn’t terribly relevant, and leads to much (I assume unwanted) philosophizing and hair-splitting.
Anti-abortionists sometimes cite surveys of the frequency of rape and threats to maternal health, showing that the majority of abortions which take place are unrelated to these two factors. While it is true that the option to abort must be provided to victims of rape, molestation, incest, and ill health, this is not where the story ends. The most obvious personal dilemmas are in no way the only ones that should be considered. To believe so is to be overly simplistic and, sometimes, egocentric – how can any of us claim to know exactly what is needed by a woman put in distress by an unwanted pregnancy?
The complexity and multitude of personal issues potentially (and surely) faced by women surpasses that which can be surveyed en masse or criticized by an outside party.
‘Mental health’ is sometimes cited by anti-abortionists and pro-choicers alike, but this issue isn’t even relevant to the debate. The idea of ‘mental health’ is misleading and useless to begin with. The word ‘health’ refers to physical, biological processes which are scientifically observable. Neurological health – healthiness of the functions of the brain – is a legitimate scientific concern. The realm of the mental, on the other hand, is not. ‘Mental’ means ‘of the mind,’ and the mind is that part of ourselves which we are unable to currently touch with science. The mind is the realm of happiness and suffering, and because of this, no one can be as deeply acquainted with any mind as its owner.
‘Mental health’ is an impossible phrase. It attempts to hand the reins of a person’s mind over to another person who is incapable of understanding it as clearly as that mind’s owner.
This is why second-trimester abortion – even if not needed due to easily observable factors like the mother’s physical health or the event of rape – must still be made available to any woman who seeks it. Whether a woman’s psyche can bear the event of an abortion or, conversely, the event of giving birth, must be ultimately left up to the reasoned, educated faculties of the woman in question.
When denied the opportunity for abortion, women are likely to seek an illegal option, which is unsafe. This likelihood supports the hypothesis that personal issues are too weighty for prohibitive laws to be fair or effective in regulating abortion. It is not only the case that we shouldn’t limit abortion, but that we just plain can’t, and to try is to do harm.
Opposing arguments include in their arsenals some comparative analyses, to the end of making pro-choice supporters look hypocritical. Pro-choicers often support greater funding for health care, and are sometimes anti-war, anti-death penalty, etcetera. The anti-abortionist responds to this with, “How can you permit the termination of one life and not another?”
To put it this simply is factual and ethical blindness. A young fetus, even if capable of suffering (this is often questionable), is not likely as capable of suffering as a self-sustaining autonomous being. A fetus has no hopes or dreams to shatter. These things reside in the mind, and develop after birth. A fetus does not know them.
Since humans are not exempt from the animal kingdom (we spawned from it, as is evidenced by fetal development among many other observable processes), such a comparative argument can be turned around – a fetus at the most usual stage of abortion is less mentally functional than the animals we eat. A zygote aborted by the morning-after pill is less functional than a fly. A stem cell is less mentally functional than the common cold you caught last winter. Anti-abortionists: how can you eat meat, swat flies, and accept immunizations of any kind for convenience while denying women the right to abort for convenience?
No one can sanely deny that it’s better to use contraception than to use abortion as a form of birth control. Abortions stemming from avoidable pregnancies create a strain on health care systems women’s bodies. However, people make mistakes. Condoms, birth control pills, and other contraceptives are not one hundred per cent effective.
Abortion is a very useful tool in preventing handicapped or developmentally challenged births. Some anti-abortionists compare this to Nazism, which immediately ought to raise a red flag for any reader: the Nazi card is used to shock, not to argue fairly, and usually represents a last-ditch effort.
Nazism can be defined as a doctrine supporting the killing of fully-developed human beings of all ages in order to exterminate certain races (and ‘prove’ the dominance of the so-called Aryan race). Race is not a defect. In fact, race is largely a fictional and overblown concept, while mental disorders and physical handicaps are observably detrimental and dysfunctional.
Even if using abortion in such a way can be argued to be morally reprehensible, The Nazi Card is not the way to do it.
A fetus may be a different organism from the mother it uses to support itself, but that does not make it a fully human organism, nor does it make it an organism that deserves to use the adult human as life support. The freeing of the mother’s body from the leeching organism leads to the death of the organism as an unfortunate by-product. Just as I can’t legally or morally be expected to submit to donating an organ, giving blood, or being hooked up as life support to even a fully developed human being, (here I’m borrowing an argument from Judith Jarvis Thomson), I don’t have to submit to supporting a fetus throughout its development.
If I trip and accidentally cut a friend with a kitchen knife while emptying my dishwasher, destroying his kidneys, I am not required to donate one of my own to his benefit, even if I’m the only possible donor. This would be a nice thing to do, it can not be made a legal requirement, nor should it.
In the same way, even while assuming that the fetus is a moral human being, I can not be legally or morally made to carry it to term. The right of a person to maintain full control over his or her own body is paramount to anything else – even in the event of that person being responsible for a life-threatening accident.
Some argue that a fetus will be a person, therefore should be treated as a person now. This does not follow; in fact, it’s downright silly. A first year medical student will eventually have her degree, but that doesn’t mean she should be able to treat patients now. A seed will become a carrot if planted, but that doesn’t mean it’s as nutritious as a carrot right now. I will one day die, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to bury me alive right now.
Anti-abortionists often hold their position due in a large part to their belief in god, and/or in creationism. This demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of history, science, reason, human nature, and morality. Sadly, I can’t put it into more detail than that lest I sidetrack into a theological debate, so I’ll plug a few authors instead (in no particular order): Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Charles Darwin, Christopher Hitchens, Socrates, Clarence Darrow.
It is not wrong to have sex. It is not wrong to enjoy the the physical closeness of another consenting individual. It is not wrong to freely disclose and act upon feelings in a way that fosters pleasure, enjoyment, and often, social bonds. What is wrong is to misrepresent the issue of abortion due largely to the apparent (and faulty) justification of sexual oppression.
The consequences of abortion are not as vast or profound as anti-abortionists claim. Such consequences are especially not nearly as harmful as legal restriction.