Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Logic of 'Pro-Choice': Why Abortion is Murder

Recently, a pair of ethicists, Alberto Giubilini of the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva of Melbourne University, authored a paper that was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled: "After-Birth: Why Should the Baby Live?"[1] In said paper, they argued in favour of what they refer to as "after-birth abortion" purely on the basis of current pro-choice arguments. Whilst those of us within the Church have been arguing that the arguments in favour of abortion apply equally to those outside of the womb too, the scary thing here is that these ethicists are serious advocates of killing newborn children. Let's think about this.

The argument presented by these two "ethicists" is as follows:
1. Post-birth abortion and pre-birth abortion are morally equivalent.
2. Pre-birth abortion is morally acceptable.
3. Therefore, post-birth abortion is morally acceptable.

However, since premise two is what is under debate, this is clearly an example of begging the question. Furthermore, the conclusion flies in the face of our moral experiences. Given that the immorality of killing newborn babies is much more plausible and obviously true than the alleged morality of killing unborn babies, the correct argument should be:

1. Post-birth abortion and pre-birth abortion are morally equivalent.
2. Post-birth abortion is morally unacceptable.
3. Therefore, pre-birth abortion is morally unacceptable.

The crucial premise, however, is, of course, the first one. I assume most pro-choice advocates are at least rational and moral enough to recognise that killing newborn babies is morally wrong. The question is, are post-birth and pre-birth abortion morally equivalent? The usual strategy is to deny that unborn children possess one or more properties that would typically embue them with protection from being killed. This is evident in how advocates of abortion use language that attempts to dehumanise the unborn, such as referring to them as "foetuses" instead of children. The top four properties that pro-abortion advocates deny the unborn possess are as follows:

1. Being a life form.
2. Being human.
3. Being biologically distinct from the mother.
4. Possessing personhood.

Sometimes you will even see pro-abortion advocates claim that unborn children are "parasites,' and thus attributing to them the property of being a parasitic organism (again, trying to dehumanise them.) Let us look at these. The first two seem blatantly false. To be considered alive, something has to meet a set of criteria that most of where presumably taught in middle school via an entertaining acronym of some kind. There are certain characteristics that something must possess in order to be considered a living organism.[2] In order to be a living organism, something must have signalling and self-sustaining processes: the ability to undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce, and adapt to their environment via natural selection via successive generations. This is the scientific definition of life, and an unborn child possesses all of these.

As for whether or not unborn children are human, this is a claim that does not even merit a response. Any DNA test would be enough to refute this. Furthermore, arbitrarily declaring unborn children to be non-human presents other difficulties. At what point does an unborn child magically become human? How could two human beings produce non-human offspring? The third claim is similarly ridiculous, which, again, a simple DNA test can disprove. It is the issue if personhood, however, that is most intriguing. Personhood is a philosophical concept, but one that is difficult to define. For sake of argument, we shall use the following criteria. P is a person iff:
i. P is a rational being.
ii. P is a being to which states of consciousness can be attributed.
iii. Others regard (or can regard) P as a being to which states of consciousness can be attributed.
iv. P is capable of regarding other beings as beings to which states of consciousness can be attributed.
v. P is capable of communication.
vi. P is self-conscious; that is P is capable of regarding him/her/itself as a subject of states of consciousness.

The problem with this strategy is that whole classes of humans would lose their right to life. For example, newborns lack many of the characteristics most would consider necessary for personhood. Thus, if unborn children can be freely slaughtered in the womb in as consequence free an environment as possible, then it follows that the same applies to newborns who similarly lack personhood. For how can a newborn be considered rational? How is a newborn capable of regarding him or herself as a being to which states of consciousness can be attributed? How can a newborn regard others as being to which states of consciousness be attributed? No, the right to life is a basic human right. Given that unborn children are biologically human, it follows that the right of life be extended to them also. To deny them that right thus seems completely arbitrary. Thus, when people attempt to deny that unborn children do not have a right to life, then it strikes me as being extremely sinister and reminiscent of eugenics programs.

The tactic of alleging that unborn children are parasites, however, seems to me particularly odd given that the same pro-abortion advocates tend to simultaneously claim that women have a right to their own body and so can freely terminate their own unborn children, thus implying that an unborn child is not biologically distinct from the mother. Consistency apparently isn't for everybody. Nonetheless, even if they aren't implying that, there are those who do make that argument. Either way, are unborn children parasites? Once again, let us look at what it means to be a parasite. A parasite is a member of one species living in or on a member of another species, whereas an unborn child is a member of one species living in the uterine cavity of a member of the same species. This is an obligatory dependent relationship, not a parasitic relationship. A parasite is an invading organism from an outside source, whereas an unborn child is formed from a fertilised egg that comes from within the mother's body, an inside source.[3]

Other inconsistencies include a parasite remaining with the host as long as it or the host lives, whereas an unborn child is eventually born. A parasite is detrimental to the reproductive capabilities of the hose, whereas an unborn child is absolutely essential to the mother's reproductive capability as an unborn child must begin the first stages of their life in this way in order for the mother to successfully reproduce. Parasites usually involves an immunological response on the part of the host, whereas an unborn children is rendered immune to this response by the trophoblast. A parasite likewise also sometimes triggers a response from the host body that attempts to cut the parasite off, whereas an unborn child evokes no such response. In fact, the mother's tissue established close contact between the child and his or her mother. Lastly, parasites are usually harmful to the host, whereas an unborn child is not.

Thus, we can see that unborn children aren't parasites. Simply killing unborn children for being biologically dependent upon their mothers is not valid either. As aforementioned, a second strategy amongst pro-abortion advocates claim that a woman has a right to her own body. Thus, since an unborn child is dependant upon a woman's body, it is morally permissible for the mother to terminate that child according to pro-abortion advocates. This is erroneous for several reasons. First of all, the most that could be granted is that it would be permissible for a woman to have her unborn child removed, not outright killed whilst still in the womb (which is what abortion is.) Secondly, a right is an exclusive claim that does not refer to other people. So, a woman does have a right to her own body. However, an inclusive claim that affects other people is invalid and not a right. People simply do not have the right to kill another human being. Now, the pro-abortion advocate might respond that there are some instances where it is morally acceptable to kill another person. I do not dispute this, however, in offering the above argument in favour of abortion, pro-abortion advocates are simply begging the question that abortion is morally permissible.

What is under question here is whether or not killing an unborn child is morally permissible if a woman decided to exercise her right to her own body by killing her unborn child. It is my contention that this is simply not the case. Let us consider the example of conjoined twins. These are twins whose bodies are fused together in some respect. Sometimes, a pair of conjoined twins share body parts. In such a scenario, each individual has a right to their own body. However, suppose that one twin wants to be separated from the other in order to have a better, more functional life. Would it be morally permissible for this twin to remove the other twin whilst keeping the body parts they share? Unless the other twin consented, then the answer would obviously be no. Now, whilst an unborn child does share body parts with the mother, it IS on the other hand connected via an umbilical chord to the mother. In order to remove the unborn child, this chord must be severed, which would lead to the unborn child dying. However, as we have seen with the conjoined twin example, it would be immoral to eliminate a person biologically dependant upon you without their consent.

Another example which is analogous but not exactly similar is how a newborn child is dependant upon his or her mother for his or her survival. Newborns need to be fed, clothed, and looked after by adults in order to survive into childhood, and even in childhood retain some level of dependence upon their parents. Newborns, however, are completely helpless and defenceless and require others to do everything for them. Now, people have a right to their own property. What if the parents one day decided that they did not want their child and decided to exercise their right to their own property and remove their child from their property by dumping them elsewhere? This would necessarily result in the newborn's death if they were not happened upon by well-meaning passer-bys. All rational and moral people would agree that this is immoral. So, why is it moral for a woman to directly kill her child simply because it happens to inhabit her womb? There are simply no good, valid reasons for doing so. The human right to life applies to all humans.

A third tactic of pro-abortion advocates is usually to resort to bringing up cases of rape, incest, et al. Of course, this is not an argument. A pro-abortion advocate would need to show that these are morally permissible reasons to abort an unborn child. Secondly, simply showing that there are some cases were abortion is morally permissible does not somehow mean that all abortions are morally acceptable. Is abortion in cases of rape morally acceptable? It is hard for me to see how killing an unborn child is morally acceptable. As many pro-life advocates ask, how is it moral to punish an innocent child for something it had no control over? In cases where the mother's life is in danger, then it would be moral perhaps to attempt removing the unborn child early, but, of course, this is again not a legitimate reason for killing said child. However, the primary reasons why women have abortions are for 'social reasons.'[4] The top reasons given are:
a) It would interfere with work, school, etc.
b) It would be too expensive to raise a child
c) Family problems
d) Too young
e) To limit childbearing.

None of these are valid reasons to kill a newborn child, so why are they considered valid reasons to kill an unborn child? Why do allegedly sane, rational people crave unborn blood so fiercely? There simply is no justification for the life-destroying myth that abortion is morally acceptable. Abortion is simply murder and is at every level immoral. Notes:
1 Will Heaven, "'After-birth abortion' is logically sound: that's why it will boost the pro-life movement," The Telegraph, February 29th 2012, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/willheaven/100140331/after-birth-abortion-is-logically-sound-thats-why-it-will-boost-the-pro-life-movement (Accessed August 28th 2012)
2 Daniel E. Koshland Jr., 'The Seven Pillars of Life, Science, 22, March 2002, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/295/5563/2215.full (Accessed August 18th 2012) and Chris P. McKay, 'What is Life—and How Do We Search for It in Other Worlds?,' PLoS Biology, September 14th 2004 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC516796/?tool=pubmed(Accessed August 28th 2012) See also: http://www.buildingthepride.com/faculty/pgdavison/BI%20101/Overview%20Fall%202004.htm
3 Thomas L. Johnson, 'Why the Embryo or Fetus Is Not a Parasite,' Libertarians for Life, 1974, http://www.l4l.org/library/notparas.html (Accessed August 28th 2012)
4 Akinrinola Bankole, Susheela Singh and Taylor Haas, 'Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries,' International Family Planning Perspectives Volume 24, Number 3, September 1998, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/2411798.html (Accessed August 28th 2012) and: Lawrence B. Finer, Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann M. Moore, 'Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,' Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005, 37(3):110–118, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/3711005.pdf (Accessed august 28th 2012) See Also: Kelly Clinger, 'Twenty weeks pregnant with twins, but last week she had an abortion,'Life Site News, August 13th 2012, http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/twenty-weeks-pregnant-with-twins-but-last-week-she-had-an-abortion (Accessed August 28th 2012)


  1. Pro-choicers aren't obliged to take a psychological view on personhood, and the other takes (like gradualism, potentialism, whatever) will preserve a distinction between pre and post birth abortion.

    Another route to secure the legitimacy of abortion is to say that unborn and just born children have similar moral status, but their relationship with the mother is what determines any right to abortion or similar. Cf. Violinist stuff.

  2. Judith Thomsons Violinist parallel is flawed in several ways. We may not have a duty to strangers but we do have a duty to at-least sustain our own offspring, just as a parent has a duty to provide for an infant once its been born. It would be wrong to kill an infant simply because it requires your care since its location has little to do with its moral status. The logic is absurd.

    Thomson is wrong to claim we have no more moral obligation to our offspring than we do a stranger. The child is also not a stranger... its exactly where it ought to be, if it doesn't belong in the womb where exactly does it belong?

    Abortion is an active act of destruction it is not simply withholding support, abortion is a deliberate act and intention to kill, which is not conveyed in the analogy. Its like arguing suffocating someone is simply the withholding of oxygen!

    Also with the exception of rape, pregnancy is the natural consequence of having sex..it shouldn't come as a surprise and is certainly not like waking up attached to a stranger against her will.

    1. Have you read the Violinist paper? (It is here: http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm)

      So Thomson's case is not that we bear *no* obligations to the unborn person, or that we are within our rights to kill this unborn person but that these obligations fall short of those entailed by pregnancy, which incur risks of morbidity and mortality. So the bodily obligations of pregnancy lie beyond the call of duty, and so we do not go below the standards of minimal decency if we extricate ourselves from these obligations, even if as a consequence the unborn person dies.

      1) Rape is perhaps the clearest case of where there doesn't seem to be any sort of parental obligation above-and-beyond obligations to strangers: if I am made pregnant against my will in an attack, it seems clear I don't 'owe' the unborn person any sort of parental duty, for similar reasons to why I don't owe the violinist a duty to remain hooked up if I find myself in that situation one morning.

      2) Withdrawing support doesn't extend to killing, as you note a few times (and Thomson notes in her paper). But this merely means abortion is wrong by virtue of technique - 'chemical' abortions seem to fit under 'withdrawing support', for example. And again, via the same violinist analogy, the fact I can foresee the violinist will die if I unhook myself does not mean I am murdering him: the fact he is in such a vulnerable state is regrettable but not my problem.

      3) But what about cases that do not include rape? Surely we hold non-discharge-able duties to our biological offspring in *these* cases? Not necessarily. It seems plausible that the reason we hold parents to have special duties to their offspring arise from them having consented to or assumed having such duties, and if for whatever reasons they are unable to fulfil these duties, we expect them to make every attempt to find others who are able to assume this role instead of killing the child. Unwanted pregnancies do not seem to have the property of women consenting to this parental obligation and (sans artificial uteri), there is no ability to transfer care to someone else.

      Suppose a woman uses really reliable contraception, of the sort that she would not expect to get pregnant in several hundred years of use (although there is still a risk). She gets unlucky and falls pregnant. There doesn't seem much different from this case and case of pregnancy through rape: for although there is a foreseeable risk of pregnancy despite contraceptive use, there is a foreseeable risk of rape in (for example) leaving the house, or being in a certain place at a certain time. If we hold in the latter case 'taking the risk' does not tacitly assume responsibility for the risked consequence, then the same should apply in the former case.

      Thomson continues extending this remit in a similar way. Suppose one gets pregnant through a *mistake* in contraceptive use? That doesn't seem to incur parental responsibility any more than mistakenly getting hooked up to a violinist (or mistakenly incurring an elevated chance of being assaulted that comes to pass) would incur parallel responsibilities.

      Further, the case where *at first* you enthusastically wanted a child and got pregnant, but *later* decided against it may also be defensible: raising a child is throughout a supererogatory act, so deciding not to follow through after a while might not be any great wrong: http://www.thepolemicalmedic.com/2012/06/a-violinist-analogy-applies-consensual-sex/


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