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.
Photo credit: Wikimedia
- Find the first post in this series about abortion here: A Defense of Abortion Rights: The Spectrum Argument
- Rick Perry’s Weak Argument for Abstinence