Abortion


Pondering the implications of facts and viewpoints:

Fact: Every cell in the human body (except red blood cells) contains a complete copy of that person's DNA.

Fact: At fertilization, the single celled zygote contains a complete copy of that person's DNA.

Definitions:

  1. zygote — single-celled fertilized egg.
  2. embryo — before development of the major organs; or, from implantation to week 8.
  3. fetus — from then until birth.
  4. baby — very young. Some dictionaries include fetus as a baby.

The claim by those against abortion: Abortion is morally wrong because it is the killing of a person; it is murder. This justifies the state intervening via laws.


Murder

The first question to ask is: What is murder?

Murder is unlawfully killing someone, a person, a human.

In this blog entry, I do not distinguish between murder, criminal homicide, and manslaughter. The question is whether abortion is any of these.

All definitions of murder mention that murder must be unlawful. Presumably if a specific kind of killing is not unlawful, then it is not murder. Examples are: capital punishment, war, self defense, "pulling the plug" of someone on life support.

The definitions of murder and criminal homicide and manslaughter include a reference to intent. They range in severity from premeditated malice to neglect. I doubt it is proper to say that abortion involves premeditated malice, and so, perhaps calling it murder is not technically proper.


Morality

The question is whether abortion is murder if abortion is legal. Can the mere passing of laws make abortion morally justifiable?

The issue here is that people have different opinions about this question. Should those who insist abortion is morally wrong be the ones to dictate to everyone else in society? Or should society allow for people to choose for themselves about certain moral questions?

The next question to ask is: Is killing a developing zygote or embryo or fetus in the womb ever morally justified? This is, I think, a better way to approach the question than to call it murder because it avoids the legal question altogether. In other words, it abortion immoral even if it is legal?

And what about the case in which the baby, once born, will suffer tremendous pain and will die soon? Is this kind of "mercy killing" morally justified? This usually involves late term abortion.


DNA

An argument against abortion is: that the cells of the zygote and the embryo and the fetus in the womb contain complete copies of human DNA; and that the zygote and embryo and fetus are, therefore, human persons who morally have the right to enjoy all the same rights as humans outside the womb.

In other words, the claim is that the zygote and the embryo and the fetus in the womb are persons from the instant of fertilization.

Certainly all humans have bodies containing DNA. But is the DNA the essence of their personhood?

Is it the presence of human DNA or the presence of "personhood" which is the thing of concern when considering whether abortion is immoral?

Let's explore this by assuming that DNA defines personhood:

If DNA defines personhood then it is immoral to destroy DNA for any reason. An example: removing tissue or organs during surgery. (And certainly introducing someone else's DNA in organ or tissue transplants would be immoral; you would be creating a Frankenstein monster!)

When a surgeon removes an organ of the body, is this murder just like abortion is, because he is killing cells containing DNA?

Clearly, we need to expand the DNA definition of personhood to include the entire organism. The DNA of only a subset of cells is clearly not the person. Certainly the zygote and embryo and fetus and born humans all qualify as humans using this definition.

Aspects of DNA in a zygote and embryo and fetus; it provides the information used for:

  1. Guiding and controlling development
  2. Cell functioning
  3. Cell division

Is it the DNA molecule itself that is the issue, or rather, the information embedded within the DNA?

If the collection of DNA molecules are the essential aspect of personhood, then we are defining a person as being a set of molecules. Clearly a pile of DNA molecules is not a person. But are the DNA molecules within the functioning cells a person?


Personhood

The next question to ask is: What is a person?

A person is more than the set of functioning molecules within his or her body. There is a mental aspect to personhood, a spiritual aspect.

Is consciousness required for someone to be a person? Is someone born unconscious and who never "wakes up" a person? We intuitively want to answer "yes".

What about someone who looses sufficient brain function such that they can never again be conscious? Are they a person?

Those who claim that people like Terri Schiavo are persons will, I think, have no reason to reject AI robots as being persons also. The question of AI robots is whether or not they will be conscious. But if consciousness is not required for personhood, then AI robots will have more of a claim to personhood than Terri Schiavo because they will be vastly more functional.

Maybe you want to limit the definition of a person to a specific biological organism having human DNA. But again, is consciousness required for them to be a person?

Typically at this point, those opposing abortion will revert again to the DNA argument against abortion, and around and around we go on a logical merry-go-round.


Fetal development

A zygote has no possibility of being conscious, or of feeling pain, or of suffering.

Those who claim the act of being born makes you human are idiots. There is obviously a continuum such that partial birth abortion is no better than infanticide.

There is a point (perhaps 11 weeks, perhaps 3 months) before which there is no possibility that the embryo or fetus is conscious. Certainly it can't feel pain before then because the cells required to detect pain, and to transmit and receive pain messages have not yet developed.

Those who are concerned with the welfare of other people's non-conscious embryos or fetuses should be more concerned about the suffering of animals slaughtered for food — these suffer, whereas the non-conscious embryos or fetuses do not.

It seems the objection to abortion of non-conscious embryos or fetuses devolves into the question of DNA; that there is something innately sacrosanct about zygotes and embryos and fetuses of organisms having human DNA. Probably the source of this is religion; that humans are created in God's image. But in Christianity, Adam was created by God as a fully formed adult. It is the adult human that was created in God's image, not the single celled zygote.

The question is whether the anti-abortion viewpoint is a moral absolute, to be honored by everyone. If so, what basis is there for claiming this? Is it based on religion, or just a feeling or intuition that it is correct, or some other reason? It seems to me that those opposed to abortion need to answer this question.

Based on the discussion above, I can easily see making abortion illegal after the first trimester, with the possible exception of "mercy killing" in the case in which the baby, once born, will suffer tremendous pain and will die soon.


Rights of the mother

Should religious moral claims be enforced upon those who don't embrace that religion? (Ditto for any moral viewpoints deriving from religion.)

The law is (or should be) the encapsulation of the moral codes that a society wishes to enforce on all its members. Naturally there will be some who do not agree with these codes.

Should the mother be allowed to choose what happens to the developing human inside her body? Should she be allowed to determine which concept of personhood she prefers?

What about the case of rape? Why should the poor victim of a rape have any moral obligation to the subsequent effects caused by the introduction of semen into her body? If there is a moral problem with killing the zygote or embryo or fetus, the responsibility lies with the rapist; the victim of rape is completely blameless. Perhaps the law should be that if a woman aborts an embryo or fetus that was caused by rape, than the rapist should also be charged with murder (in addition to rape).

An argument given against abortion is that, if the embryo or fetus within a pregnant woman is killed be someone else, they can be charged with murder. The claim is that this implies that the embryo or fetus is a person, and if the woman were to abort it, that would also be murder.

This is a bad argument. Only the mother has the right to choose what becomes of the embryo or fetus she is carrying. No one else has that right.

This brings up the question of why the mother has any rights about what occurs within her fallopian tubes and uterus. Is this the same question about whether anyone has rights concerning what occurs in their internal organs? Is the reproductive process of the female different? If it is, it is the presence of the zygote or embryo or fetus that makes the difference.

Do those opposing abortion propose that society as a whole owns the contents of a women's reproductive system? Does this imply that society as a whole also owns their children once born? This is a dangerous slippery slope.

It seems reasonable that social services should intervene when children are not cared for properly by the parents. Perhaps this same duty of society to look after the interests of children also applies to the zygotes and embryos and fetuses.


Harmful effects

Opponents of abortion claim that every woman who has an abortion regrets it afterwards or suffers psychologically afterwards. This is false; it's a lie. Some do; many don't. Their moral view about the topic has a role for some; indoctrinating them that abortion is murder causes distress for some.

Opponents of abortion claim that if you allow abortion, this will lead to infanticide, to killing unwanted babies. There is no evidence of this whatsoever. It's a similar claim as: that euthanasia will lead to culling old people to save money. Shame on people who make such unsubstantiated claims. (But certainly it's OK to ask such questions.)

Opponents of abortion often imply that late term abortions are common. This is false. Typically they are only performed in the case in which the baby, once born, will suffer tremendous pain and will die soon — as a kind of "mercy killing".

Calling abortion "murder" is, I think, disingenuous for reasons I noted above.

Referring to the anti-abortion movement as "pro-life" is a joke. Often these same people don't care much about whether people starve to death due to inadequate money for food, or whether they die of easily treatable medical conditions due to lack of medical care, or whether they die on the streets due to lack of housing or mental health care.

Is it harmful to society for those opposed to abortion to insist so strongly that women do not have the right to choose? Does the view that abortion is a moral evil justify doing the kinds of things that they do to thwart the law by making abortion unavailable to women, even though abortion is legal?

Should abortion be legal if only for the reason that some women will attempt to, themselves, abort the embryo or fetus, causing harm or death to themselves?

Should an embryo of fetus in the womb be called a "baby"? (Some dictionaries include this as a definition; some don't.) Ditto for the word "child". Certainly the mother relates to her unborn child with all the same concerns and emotions as when it is finally born.

The question of abortion has a moral dimension. Should the mother be the one who chooses her resolution of the difficult questions? Will the desperation she may feel (and ignorance due to lack of philosophical training of this issue in particular and of critical thinking in general); will these factors skew her reasoning and conclusions? Should the views of politicians dictate the laws? Should religious people's views dictate the laws?