Abortion is one of the most controversial social issues of our day. Heat rather than light often characterises the abortion debate. There are a number of common arguments heard from the pro-choice side. They all seem to involve misleading and mythical claims. Indeed, almost all these arguments sidestep the most important issue: whether the unborn in fact are fully human, and therefore deserving of life, liberty and protection.
Here I present two common abortion myths, and my response to them. Future articles will discuss more such abortion myths.
Myth: Abortion is a “woman’s issue”
This is true to an extent, given that only women undergo abortions. But it is also false, since roughly half of all abortion victims are males. But more than this, abortion is a human rights issue. To say only women can debate the issue is quite beside the point. As E.J. Mishan has remarked: “Perhaps the crudest defence of abortion rights, more often thrown out in anger or in the heat of controversy, is the assertion that no man has a right to pronounce on the subject since he does not know what it is like to be a woman, an injunction that might tempt a retort no less impertinent, that a woman has no right to condemn a rapist since she has no idea of what it is like to be a man.”
Moreover, this argument assumes the position that people cannot assess a moral issue unless they have experienced it themselves. But that is like saying we cannot condemn slavery unless we have first been slaves, or we cannot condemn arson unless we have first become one of its victims. Does the fact that I am not Jewish mean I cannot speak out on the Holocaust? Whether an issue is right or wrong does not depend on our experience of it.
Sometimes this myth is put this way: “men don’t get pregnant”. But similar objections can be raised to this claim. Does this mean mothers have no right whatsoever to decide whether their male sons can be circumcised or not, since women will never experience a male circumcision?
Also, men may not get pregnant, but does that mean they can say nothing on the issue? Recall that it was nine men (US Supreme Court Justices) who gave women the right to abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Will these same pro-choicers argue – to be consistent – that this decision was invalid because it was made by men?
Myth: Abortion simply removes some unwanted tissue
The pro-death camp endlessly uses the term “termination of pregnancy” and other euphemisms. Now if it is true that the “fetus” which is “terminated” is not really human, but is just a blob of protoplasm, or at best, “a potential life”, then abortion is not much different than removing a tonsil or a false eyelash. But if the fetus is indeed a living human being, then the whole story changes.
The question of when a human life begins is of the utmost importance. As F. LaGard Smith puts it, “When it comes to human life, we dare not play games with either doubts or definitions. If, in fact, we cannot decide when human life begins, then we cannot safely assume that it hasn’t begun. At a minimum, the almost universal agreement that an unborn fetus is both human and living must raise a presumption in favor of human life. Are we prepared to find out that we’ve been wrong all along in denying the obvious?”
The stakes are indeed too high. How would a hunter fare before a court of law if, while hunting, he had shot at a movement in the bush and killed, not a bird, but a fellow hunter? Surely the judge would ask, “If you were not sure, why did you shoot?” The burden of proof must lie with those who contend that human life is not being eliminated.
But biology and science are on the pro-life side on this debate. At conception a wholly unique individual is formed, complete with its own genetic makeup. It is not just one more cell of the mother, but a distinct and different life. As philosopher Peter Kreeft explains, the zygote “is completely individual, it’s completely different. It’s got its own genetic code. If you cloned any cell in the mother’s body, you’d get a replica of Mommy. But if you cloned the zygote, you’d get a totally different person.”
Francis Beckwith explains: “Given the facts of embryology and fetal development, at conception, a whole human being, with its own genome, comes into existence, needing only food, water, shelter, and oxygen, and a congenial environment in which to interact, to grow and develop itself to maturity in accordance with her own intrinsically ordered nature.”
That human life begins at conception (or fertilisation) is not opinion but scientific fact. Indeed, as an article in Nature recently put it, “Your world was shaped in the first 24 hours after conception”. Indeed, some of the more honest pro-abortionists do admit that abortion takes a human life. Feminist Naomi Wolf for example has conceded that the “pro-life slogan, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart’ is incontrovertibly true. While images of violent fetal death work magnificently for pro-lifers as political polemic, the pictures are not polemical in themselves: they are biological facts. We know this.”
It seems that many pro-abortionists are all too aware that human life may indeed be present in the unborn, thus the remarkable lengths to which some of them will go to hide this fact. Take but two examples. Contrast a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) and a chosen abortion. There is grief for the baby lost in a miscarriage. But in an abortion there is “merely” the loss of an unwanted fetus. Says Smith, “Have you ever noticed that the only time those of us who are not in the medical profession refer to a fetus is when we talk about abortion? In every other case, we refer to a baby. We don’t ask, ‘What are you going to name the fetus?’ Nor do we console a woman who has just miscarried by saying, ‘I’m sorry you lost your fetus.’ In referring to a pregnancy, we invariably understand that we are dealing with a little person developing in the womb. Only when it is subject to an abortion must a baby go incognito.” It’s a baby if you want it, a clump of tissue if you don’t!
Another significant factor which seems to belie the claim that the fetus is simply a collection of cells is post-abortion trauma and guilt. If a fetus is indeed just a blob of tissue, why all the trauma, why all the guilt? When an appendix is removed, no one experiences guilt – a little pain perhaps, but no psychological and emotional upheavals. “Guilt about abortions was not invented by the pope” says Smith. Indeed, it seems to be a universal condition. As another commentator puts it, “Findings such as these do not constitute an argument against abortion. But they certainly tell us we are not in the realm of tonsillectomies.”
The ironies of the pro-choicers are indeed incredible. We can choose to have a baby, or dispose of it, but it is no longer “politically correct” to choose to wear a fur coat. In America teenagers need parental permission to get their ears pierced, but not to get an abortion. Outside the womb, child abuse is clearly not an option; inside the womb it’s “a woman’s right to choose.” As one observer puts it, “What irony that a society confronted with plastic bags filled with the remains of aborted babies should be more concerned about the problem of recycling the plastic.”
Choice is indeed the false god of this age. Hiding behind such facades as “I’m personally against abortion but I won’t impose my values on others – it’s their choice” just won’t wash. One might just as well say, “I’m personally against rape and genocide, but others must make up their own minds.” There are some areas that are just out of bounds, just beyond choice.
With around 100,000 babies being killed in Australia each year (Australia has the second highest abortion rate of any developed country), and 45 to 50 million killed around the world, mostly as after-the-fact contraception, it is time to challenge the abortion myths. For too long we have been fed misinformation and falsehoods on this issue. It is important that the truth about abortion be made known as widely as possible.