Abort? Pro-choice vs. No choice.

Is abortion closer to murder or using a pesticide? Is a nurse or doctor who helps carry out abortions morally closer to being guilty of genocide or indistinguishable from using a doctor who uses antibiotics to rid the body of an infection? If I refuse to allow my body to be used as a life-support system am I murdering or simply denying access to my body? What are our rights with regards to an invader who has intruded on our most personal of homes; our body? It seems clear that the answers to these questions evade simple back and white answers and lurk somewhere in on a spectrum of grey; however, I think the answers fall incontrovertibly on one side and not the other. Perhaps the best way to start the discussion is to think about how we define the value of life.

“Sanctity” of life is something I’ve never really grasped; I’m simply not sympathetic to the assumptions that relate to sanctity. But “value” is a different issue altogether. I think we can measure the value of life by—surprise surprise—the ability of a conscious thing to suffer and be elated; this is the wellbeing thing I go on about all the time. This means that bacteria, which has no central nervous system and thus no capacity to feel1, is worthless and primates and dolphins are worth considerably more. If something is incapable of suffering, like a rock, is it easy to ponder what its worth actually is.

Given that fewer cell make up a 3-day-old foetus (technically a blastocyst) than form the nervous system of a house fly 2, and that a blastocyst has no functioning nervous system at all, if minimising suffering concerns you then it should be of greater moral deliberation whether you can kill a fly than destroy3 a foetus. At least, it seems that way. But there is a greater concern to consider.

Prayson Daniel makes the point in his post (here) that if we make no moral consideration of a foetus then what we do to that foetus can go on to effect a human being; if we amputate a foetus it becomes an adult amputee. That clearly does have an impact on wellbeing. Destroying a foetus does cut off a potential human being from the highs (and lows) of a life. And ignoring effects throughout time is not an option, so far as I can see.

Ignoring effects throughout time would mean that climate change is of no moral concern. What I do to the environment now won’t affect anything now. Ignoring the passage of time in moral landscape has other implications; it wouldn’t matter to claim something would be better in the long run. Discipline makes children now, but in the long run behaving like a civil member of society and having a job and healthy relationships will increase their wellbeing. We should work in the context of what we know, and one thing every moment of your existence has demonstrated to you is that the future is coming. How do we consider a foetus when it is a soon-to-be human?

The foetus doesn’t suffer, and won’t suffer. The mother, at least in the cases where a mother is serious about aborting, is suffering4 in real terms. Now. The foetus is an invader. Now what? The ideal response is to remove the foetus and put it in an artificial womb and once it is ‘born’ it can put up for adoption to a loving family5. But that kind of medical equipment doesn’t exist. That is why I called it an ‘ideal response’. If at any point this technology does exist it will change the face of the abortion conversation.

This leaves us with the problem of an invader that is causing a human being to suffer, is incapable of suffering itself and it’s debatable whether destroying it is synonymous with killing it. The answer seems to leap off the page (or out of the screen), doesn’t it? Destroy it. It’s what we do with other infections and diseases. After all, a tumour is also a cyst of human tissue with human DNA and has the potential to become a human being (it would need some human intervention, but it can happen); what are the rights of a tumour? And what are the rights of a home invader? And what are your rights when someone breaks into your home?

Calling on ‘rights’ here is a cheat; you may have the right to shoot, stop or otherwise incapacitate a home invader but is that right consistent with my aim of minimising suffering? And even if it is, does the same rule translate across the analogy? It is safe to assume that a home invader does not intend to give you massage and do your taxes for you; it is probably safer to assume they mean to steal your property and cause you harm and thus your right to harm them is (probably) consistent with minimising suffering. This claim has many caveats attached: it’s not minimising suffering if you equally could have reasoned them out of it; it’s not minimising suffering if you tie them to a chair and torture them with a pair of pliers etc. But as a rule of thumb6 your right to defend your home does minimise suffering.

Does this extend to a foetus? A foetus may not intend to cause us harm, but if a woman does not want her baby the foetus is holding the mother captive for 9 months and forcing either a labour or a caesarean operation, at least. Sickness and lesser mobility and professional stagnation and other undesirable side effects go with a pregnancy. The mother is a prisoner to this. If a fully developed human tried obliging you to this by force, you’d have the right to forcibly stop them.

If you don’t think that is true, consider a person who needs to undergo a kidney transplant but no suitable donor will be available for 3 months. This patient is bed-bound in a hospital. For some reason they cannot undergo dialysis (who cares why? This is my though experiment). The solution is to allow the patient’s blood to pass through a tube into a healthy person’s circulatory system; a doctor can join the patient and a healthy person by an artificial blood vessel. This allows the healthy person’s kidneys to work for both people. Then both people will be bed bound for the 3 months, but the healthy person who otherwise would not have been bed-bound, and instead have been free to be with their family or pursue what makes them happy, will save the patient’s life. The healthy person is you. Is that okay?

Of course not. We would all live in fear of this happening to us if it were allowed. The patients would feel guilty of taking your freedoms. We’d have our freedoms taken away for indeterminate lengths of time. Our families would be sad. We’d be sad. It’s just not worth doing. Another person does not have the right to use your body to their ends. If they tried to force it, you would be allowed to deny it and, in my thought experiment, allow the patient to die7.

I do not see abortion as murder. Whether a foetus is even alive is debatable and that’s not nearly as important as its capacity to suffer. Yes, abortion does mean that a person who would be alive in the future won’t be, and I am sure people who were going to be aborted walk the planet now. But as a foetus you never had the right to invade your mother’s body and use it for your own end without her permission. And an abortion is the denial of that permission. It is not murder.

1 – When you take a more holistic view, appropriately called an ‘ecosystem approach’, the value of bacteria increases vastly because of its effect on the wellbeing of other things. Trees, taken in their own right have no value. But when you consider that entire ecosystems of conscious things depend on trees, suddenly they become of extreme value; they are the very infrastructure on which our wellbeing is built.

2 – Blastocyst: 150-cell existence; nervous system of a fly: 100,000-cell functioning nervous system

3 – I use the word “destroy” quite intentionally. I get annoyed when adverts say their product can kill a virus, when whether a virus is actually alive (post to follow about this) is debatable. The same is true of a blastocyst; we’re not sure it’s alive, so the safe linguistic bet is the word “destroy”.

4 – I’ve been told it is ironic men dominate this conversation; somehow my perspective on the issue is less valid than that of a woman. I don’t understand that. To the pro-life lobby we are talking about murder. To the pro-choice lobby we are talking about the freedoms a person has over their own body. How gender roles validate a perspective I simply don’t know. I’m in the UK, and although we say our healthcare is free the truth is we’re all paying for it all the time in taxes (the cheapest way to do it). As such, if a woman-only lobby started demanding that men have compulsory prostate checks to make healthcare cheaper (by, in turn, reducing the number of people being treated  or receiving palliative care for late-stage prostate problems) I wouldn’t challenge them with ‘what do you know, you’re a woman’. It’s actually a good point, even if it is an anally invasive examination.

5 – My grandma adopted my dad. My dad had a loving upbringing. I do not accept claims that adopted children have a more miserable life. Orphanages and adoption centres may be unpleasant, but at-birth adoptions seem to be perfectly fine.

6 – I find it constructive to think of the law as a rule-of-thumb risk analysis on suffering. Murder is normally bad, therefore it is illegal. Drunk driving causes a much greater risk to the public, therefore it is illegal…

7 – One would hope that palliative care would be given, to minimise suffering.

NB – I write for the simple reason that I was conflicted about the issue and taking a moment to stop and write clarified what I thought in my head. The linked post by Prayson Daniel and the comments in it were enough to cast me into doubt. This post is me dealing with the conversation that went on in my head.

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13 thoughts on “Abort? Pro-choice vs. No choice.”

  1. Agreed. The wellbeing of the adult female overrides everything until the foetus exhibits sustained and permanent brain activity, which is to say, it is switched “On.” Only after that moment (week 25) can a case be made for the foetus as a distinct individual.

    1. Precisely. The mother actually can suffer now. That takes precedent over something that nature may abort in its own time anyway, and can’t suffer now.

  2. I look like this. The purpose of sex activity is have pleasure and to reproduce human. When you having sex, that mean you are already the understand purpose and the result of sexual activity – having a baby.

    As most of people are understand about a risk of having a baby – in marriage or not. Most people are aware that the risk that they are taken, if they having a baby, they should take the responsibility. If they doesn’t want to take a responsibility, then why having sex at first place? Why not think first?

    to blame on sex itself also wrong because sex itself is a need.

    From my understanding, to talk about fetus doesn’t know or feel a pain is to just justify the mistake that have taken. If you do it, you are responsible of it, the blame is on you (example only).

    1. What if I use a condom but it breaks, or I am on the pill but it doesn’t work, or live in the Deep South of America where no sexual education is given and therefore I don’t know what sex is about? What if I made a mistake?
      If I go back to the issue of a home invader, if I leave my window open does that make me responsible for the crime?

      Sex is fun. And that’s why we do it. It is impulsively wired into us; it is an urge. We do not think rationally when we are presented with sex. And we make mistakes.

    2. To wear condom is just to minimize the risks, not to eliminate the risk. So, before both of you wear the condom, you already know the risk that you are taken.

      What if I made a mistake? – Then reduce the mistake, why keep doing the mistake.

      Even, in rural area, everyone knows that doing sex or may be in certain idea marriage = baby. If in rural area, where are no medical expertise, it more reason for you to take a baby. You going to threaten the mother’s life by abortion. Are you going to left the burden to mother only?
      To rectify mistake with another mistake is wrong.

      Generally, I totally do not support abortion. But case to case basis, there two case that to exempted. (1) rape; (2) mother’s life being threaten because of baby due sickness, etc. But it come with terms and condition i.e mother’s condition, mother’s decision, etcs.

      Other that that, I do not support at all.

      1. I don’t think children are the logical result of sex. I’ve been sexually active for 10, I am not a father. So your initial premise–that sex is for reproduction–is mistaken.

      2. I don’t know, from my biology teacher, she teach me that penis produce sperm, and ovaries produce ovum. The only purpose of that cell is to reproduce. The organ of penis and vagina are a medium to make sure the probability of both cell are connected. That activity is what we called sex. Even, in medicine, as my friends say, penis and vagina are being called “reproduction system”.

        Not become a father after 10 years active in sexual activities.
        If I am a doctor, your statement can be wrongly read as “your sperm are not fertilize”. But, I believe that is that your idea. Of course you wear condom. To wear condom is just minimize the percentage of getting birth. “Condom” itself are being categorize as “birth plan” or “birth control” item. Wearing condom are not necessary you are changing the function of penis itself. It just reducing the function of original purpose.
        Did I wrong?

        You mention that my logic is wrong some where. So, how my conclusion is a mistake? Can you rectify my conclusion so I can tuned back my logic.

        1. I have never had sex for the purposes of having children. Therefore it is wrong to say that sex is for reproduction. Do a survey, go out into the world and ask people if they have sex for the purposes of having children. My dad certainly didn’t, my younger brother and I were an accident (the desire for sex overpowered rational thinking; no condoms were used).
          How can you say that sex is for reproduction when it is so rarely used to that end?
          And even if sex were for reproduction (which it isn’t) the idea that a woman cannot change her mind and destroy a blastocyst is simply obscene. My reasons for that are above: the foetus holds the mother hostage; the cyst can’t suffer and the mother can.

  3. From your answer, I believe, it was your first time you being encounter in such argument. Right?

    So, during your Christianity, you not learn anything about sex, marriage, and its purpose?

    1. I had these arguments often at university. But such a high number of people agreed with me that well-reasoned views to the contrary were rare. That is one of the reasons I like Prayson Daniel’s blog: he is a highly articulate person (most of the time).

      But I spent no time as a Christian. I learned much about what the Christian Churches might expect of me, but I never understood why; these are the same people who think they can dictate expressions of love and outlaw condoms as a means of AIDS protection in Africa and used to hunt witches and burn people like me who didn’t believe. Their views on marriage and sex were equally as turgid and wrong.

  4. We or even my self may not think about having baby when committing sexual activities. The activities itself the reproduction activity like it or not. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex ; In wiki, it keep repeating it was a reproduction activities. So, I will stick with my conclusion. I believe your culture having too much fun and forgetting and denied the function of sex.

    I will not treat a baby or fetus as criminal who hostage their mother.
    I disagree because the mother and the father having sex willingly so she should take a responsibility of it.

    1. that works off the premise that because sex can lead to children sex has the objective purpose of leading to children. This is only true from certain perspectives: evolution, biology, religious mandates etc. Without a religious mandate it tells us nothing about how we should live.

      1. It science and it also a fact. As I remember I do even write a single word or quote from any religious form. Even I write a religious quote, everyone know about my belief, so I don’t see any problem here.

        I can write in a philosophy of sex without inserting a religious mandate. Biology is about life and it teach us how to live too properly and systematically. This is science of moral; using factual, science, pattern and science of nature.

        Then what the heck is “science of moral” that being preached by Sam Harris (just an example only). Is it another gimmick? Or it just another half cook philosophy.

        I still not telling about thermodynamic, heat transfer, or even fluid turbulent and their relation to social science or even morals. We just touch about a basic secondary school syllabus about “sex” and it already failed.

        Last time, when I say to you that science can translate to morals. I do not joke about that. Asian philosopher or maybe Aesop’s fable always refer to nature and surrounding to telling people about morals.

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