16 Arguments Against Abortion, with Rebuttals

What would an atheist think of Christians in favor of this?I’ve argued the pro-choice position with Christians, and I’ve gotten a lot of responses to my arguments.  Here are some of the arguments I’ve heard, with my rebuttals.

1. The Bible says that abortion is wrong.  As I’ve argued before, it doesn’t and God has no problem killing people, including children.  The Bible is a poor justification for the argument that killing is wrong.

2. Abortion tinkers with the natural order.  We have cheerfully adopted medicine and technology that “tinkers with the natural order”—antibiotics, vaccines, and anesthesia, for example—to which we don’t give a second thought.  We prolong life beyond what the “natural order” would permit and allow it to happen where it otherwise wouldn’t (in vitro fertilization, for example).  Abortion might be bad, but that it changes the natural order is no argument.

3. You argue that a newborn has more cells than the zygote that it started from.  Is this just a size thing?  What about someone who’s lost a limb?  Or had tonsils, appendix, or gall bladder removed?  Are they less of a person?  The difference between an amputee and a newborn is trivial compared to that between the newborn and the single cell.  In the long list of organs, limbs, and systems, this amputee has one fewer.  Compare that with a single cell, which has none of those body parts!

We can push this thinking to the ridiculous.  Imagine technology that provides life support so that a human head could survive.  Is this less of a person?

Well, yeah—obviously.  Someone who’s been reduced to just a head isn’t as much of a person as they were.  Or consider Terry Shiavo, who was allowed to die after 15 years in a vegetative state.  Was she less of a person?  Her severe brain damage certainly made her less of something, and you can label this whatever you want.

4. Imagine that you’d been aborted!  I wouldn’t care, would I?

5. Imagine that you had two planned kids, and then you had a child after an unplanned pregnancy.  You wouldn’t want to give that child up.  But if you’d aborted it, your life would be emptier.  Of course I’d love my unplanned child as much as my other ones.  But what do we conclude from this?  That I should have not had two kids but rather three?  Or five?  Or fifteen?  Should I expect some tsk-ing behind my back as neighbors wonder why my wife and I could have been so callous to have not has as many as biology would permit?

By similar logic, is a woman’s menstrual cycle a cause for lamentation because that was a missed opportunity for a child?  It is a sign of a potential life, lost.  But in any life, there are millions of paths not taken.  C’est la vie.

I don’t think it’s immoral to limit the number of children you have, and I don’t see much difference between zero cells and one cell—it’s all part of the spectrum.  I’ll agree that the thought “Let’s have a baby” isn’t a baby … but then neither is a single cell.

6. What’s the big deal about traveling down the birth canal?  The big deal is that before that process, only the mother could support the baby.  Afterwards, it breathes and eats on its own.  The baby could then be taken away and never see its mother again and grow up quite healthy.  Before, the mother was essential; after, she’s unnecessary.

I’m not arguing that abortion should be legal up until delivery.  In fact, I’m not arguing for any definition of when abortion should become illegal.  My main point has simply been that the personhood of the fetus increases from single cell through newborn, which makes abortion arguable.

7. It’s a human from conception through adulthood!  The DNA doesn’t change.  What else would that single cell be—a sponge?  A zebra?  OK, if you don’t like “human,” let’s use “person.”  No—person means the same thing as human!

This name game is a common way to avoid the issue.  I don’t care what you call the spectrum as long as we use names that make clear what the newborn has that the single cell doesn’t.

8. What if the mother wanted to abort because the fetus had green eyes or was female or would likely be gay?  This is a red herring.  How many cases are we talking about?  Abortion to increase the fraction of male babies is done in India and China, but this isn’t a factor in the U.S.

Abortions for capricious or shallow reasons also aren’t the issue.  Mothers-to-be have plenty of noble instincts to judge what is appropriate so that society can rest assured that the right thing will usually be done.  (If you balk at the “usually,” remember that that’s how society’s laws work.  They’re not perfect, and we can only hope that they’re usually on target.)  We can certainly talk about the few special cases where a woman’s actions seem petty, but don’t let that change abortion rights for the majority.

The woman who aborts for some trivial reason would likely be a terrible mother.  Let’s let a woman who isn’t mature enough to take care of a baby opt out.

9. Abortions are dangerous!  Not really.  The chance of maternal death from delivering a baby is 12 times higher than through abortion.  This is just what you’d expect, since the fetus only gets bigger (and more dangerous to deliver) with time.  Of course, this statistic will change if abortion is made illegal and more dangerous.

There is no indication that abortion is a risk factor for cancer or women’s mental health.

Next time: Why is it Always Men Advancing the Pro-Life Position?

Part 2: 16 Arguments Against Abortion, with Rebuttals (part 2)

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18 thoughts on “16 Arguments Against Abortion, with Rebuttals

  1. Pingback: 16 Arguments Against Abortion, with Rebuttals | Galileo Unchained | Secularity

  2. In argument #7, above, a single cell is simply that: a single cell. It’s no more a human than the first brush stroke of a painting is a picture or the first word of a book is a novel.


  3. Pingback: What Does the Bible Say About Abortion? Not Much. | Galileo Unchained

  4. I’m looking forward to your taking on the one argument that lurks behind the camouflage and smokescreens provided by all the others, but which is seldom explicitly stated or revealed: “You’re destroying something with an immortal soul.”
    I do recommend that Part 2 provide a link to the text of the Roe v. Wade decision, because Justice Harry Blackmun really did quite a good job back in 1973 of dealing with many of these concerns, and people on both sides of the abortion issue usually aren’t aware of the nuance, intelligence, and empathy in the actual decision, preferring instead their own cartoon version of what it says.

  5. Pingback: A Defense of Abortion Rights: the Spectrum Argument | Galileo Unchained

  6. Well……..a single cell can be human if it contains human DNA. However, unless you can prove that human life has innate worth that trumps the right of half the population to their body autonomy, it’s irrelevant. Personhood is similarly irrelevant.
    Why is a human head, being kept alive by mechanical means, less of a person?

    • Personhood is similarly irrelevant.

      If you don’t like “personhood” as the name of the spectrum from single cell to trillion-cell newborn, give me another name. I don’t much care what we call it as long as it acknowledges the spectrum. That is, what is it that a newborn has that a single cell doesn’t?

      Why is a human head, being kept alive by mechanical means, less of a person?

      You’re suggesting that a human head is not less of a person?? I think the head would think so! That doesn’t mean that we’re authorized to use him as a soccer ball, but there clearly is a lot missing from a properly functioning human.

      • Personhood is not a matter of a spectrum of cells. To say that there is some mere threshold of cell numbers where one magically becomes a person is an argument that would be hard to sustain. Personhood is about what we are, essentially, and when one thinks clearly on the issue, it will be that we have certain psychological features that make us what we are–something, obviously, that zygotes and fetuses lack. Those psychological features must have continuity and connnectiveness to past psychological states. Since any putative ‘soul’ in the zygote lacked that continuity with children and adults, the soul will not save the day.

        Personhood is said to entail a right to life. I believe that what Orlagh McGlade meant by saying that personhood is irrelevant is that even were the zygote or fetus to have a right to life, that would not make abortion morally wrong; it would not be, as we often hear, murder. (When people start with ‘abortion is murder,’ I know that they have not given the topic due thought or investigation.) Judith Jarvis Thomson was the first to formally present this case in 1971, noting that having a right to life does not entail having a right to whatever assistance one requires to say alive. For a fetus to live, it requires constant aid. Thomson put forth this thought experiment to illustrate the moral circumstances (it has been refined greatly since then to meet many challenges about responsibility and the difference between killing and letting die). Imagine you wake up in a hospital bed. The last thing you remember is being clonked on the head as you strolled through the park. You find that a tube has been surgically connected from you to a person on the other side of the curtain. It turns out that the secret Music Lovers Society kidnapped you and hooked you up to a famous violinist with a liver disease who will die without your very unique and particular aid. You can disconnect yourself, but the violinist will die. We can agree that it would be morally praiseworthy of you to remain connected (let’s say that you’ll be required to be in that hospital bed or otherwise very close to the violinist for nine months or so), but are you morally obligated to do so? The moral intuitions of most people is that you may disconnect yourself. In any case, I think that it is this intuition that leads many of use to think that fetal personhood is not the key issue. A woman’s right to not give aid is the key issue.

        • Pardon the typos: “one requires to SAY alive” should be “,,,STAY alive” and “leads many of USE to think” should be “… US to think”. There may be others just as obvious.

        • eseb:

          To say that there is some mere threshold of cell numbers where one magically becomes a person is an argument that would be hard to sustain.

          Agreed, and that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that personhood is a spectrum, that a single cell has pretty much zero and a newborn has 100%.

          personhood is irrelevant in that even were the zygote or fetus to have a right to life, that would not make abortion morally wrong

          I guess I understand your point–something could have a right to life and yet we wouldn’t be morally obliged to keep it alive? I’m not sure how those two go together.

          I think that it is this intuition that leads many of us to think that fetal personhood is not the key issue. A woman’s right to not give aid is the key issue.

          Yes, good distinction, but this seems a more roundabout approach. I prefer to deny the concept of fetal personhood before a certain point.

  7. The point is that from the mere fact that something has a right to life it doesn’t follow that it has a right to all assistance that is required to keep it alive. Thomson’s thought experiment is meant to test our intuitions on this principle. It is interesting that there was a philosophy web site a while back that presented her thought experiment, but only mentioned any connection to abortion at the end. Even among people who later gave an anti-choice opinion on abortion, most said that it was ok to disconnect, thereby killing the person who required their bodies to sustain life.

    I agree that attacking the concept of fetal personhood itself is an important approach–the arguments in favor of it are dismal. Thomson’s is also an important line of argument, such that, even IF we concede fetal personhood, abortion is still morally permissible. I only brought it up here to give the most plausible meaning to what Orlagh McGlade had said. Good day.

    • I wonder if some people think the fetus is more deserving of support or life, and that this might explain the different reactions of people in the study.

      The Thomson experiment is a helpful addition to the conversation, thanks.

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  9. Pingback: 16 Arguments Against Abortion, Addendum | Galileo Unchained

  10. Pingback: Ask an Atheist » Ask an Atheist about that Other A-word

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