Ahhh, abortion


I am very new to this board, as this is my first post. For some time I have been bothered by the abortion debate because it seems as if it has been reduced to complete sensationalism. It seems to me, however, the the entire issue of abortion does not lie around whether a woman has a right to choose, but rather if the unborn baby is actually just that, a baby?

If a pregnant mother is carrying a living human being, than abortion is the willful killing of a human being. If, however, a pregnant mother is simply carrying around a collection of tissue to which we can definitely determine is not a human being, then it seems abortion seems acceptable.

I would like to know your insights on this observation. If everyone seems to agree with what I have stated, I would be interested in hearing the argument from someone who is decidedly pro-abortion as to what it is a pregnant woman is carrying and at what point that becomes a human being.

First let me welcome you to the SDMB.

Second, it is often a good idea to make use of the search function on this board before posting a question to see if it’s already been discussed. Given the nature of this board and the neverending debate on abortion you can be almost certain that it has been discussed at length here. It is ok to ask again if you want clarification on some point or have a new twist or take on an issue but otherwise it’s beating the proverbial dead horse.

Third, in more direct answer to your question, it seems that the status of the zygote/fetus is precisely what the whole debate hinges on. If there were agreement on when a ‘collection of tissue’ becomes a ‘human being’ then the abortion debate would be solved in one fell-swoop. Unfortunately this is a point that each side can go round and round on forever with no resolution.

Welcome, Slaquer. I would also encourage use of the search function–you’ll find a lot of interesting debates out there.

Also, as far as your point, I’m not sure that even “proving” the fetus a full-fledged human being would entirely rule out abortion. There would still be the judgment of whose life is more important, the mother’s or the baby’s, such as anti-abortion folks who would still allow abortion in cases of threat to mother’s life (as rare as that is), or conceptions as a result of rape/incest.

You know, I always found it odd that people are discouraged from discussing something because it had been discussed before on a message board, or usenet thread, or whatever.

Since there are constantly new people joining the board, and old people leaving, why not? If the people still around from the old discussion are tired of it, they are free to ignore it, aren’t they?

It’s sort of like you overhearing two people at the bus station discussing something that you and your buddy were talking about there before. Do you go over to those people and say “Hey! Joe Shlabotnik and I were talking about Bill Clinton’s pardons there yesterday! Find something else to talk about!” Likely, you would ignore them.
Anyway, regarding abortion.

The idea of making it legal or illegal based on what a human being is defined as reduces the issue to a semantic one, not a biological one. All the biological facts are known, right? An embryo is well defined. A fetus is well defined. A new-born baby is well defined.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure people on either side of the issue will ever get over their gut feelings, even when faced with facts that might contradict them.

Pro-abortion? I think the term is pro-choice, to be pro-abortion is a different problem altogether. I think the argument here is centered around RIGHTS versus RESPONSIBILITIES.

I argue that rights do not necessarily conflict with responsibilities in this regard in most cases, except one (see below). I also assume that the mother should primarily raise the child, by nature, by her health, etc. As such, we already know there are medical reasons to seek an abortion to save the mother’s life, so it is not an absolute dilemma here. Here are some outlines to consider, and these pretty much sum up political platforms as well:

Libertarian: No laws should also be made to require someone to give birth once pregnant (personal rights), and by extension into personal responsibility, no laws should be made to help raise the child either.

Conservative Democrat: It is unethical to destroy a fetus (public rights to decide), and by extension of public responsibilities, it is likewise unethical to deprive the child government services to help raise him/her by the same logic, especially if one law already forced the issue.

Progressive Democrat: No laws should be made to force delivery of a fetus (by personal rights). However, by introduction of public responsibilities, government services should be offered to help raise the baby to persuade people to make the best decision (ie, not destroy it for merely lack of funds) and prevent any injustice, which thereby diminishes the dilemma altogether.

Conservative Republican: Screw what the mother wants (public rights), force the baby, then screw the baby too (by personal responsibility of mother, but not by extension). [Note: this is the only one with flawed logic, by dictating a public decree while abandoning public responsibility. Not surprisingly, this weird logic is extended to the public schools, where ultra-conservatives with the largest families are attempting to de-fund them directly and indirectly.]

As one can see, it can boil down to a simple rights versus responsilities argument. I wish I could simply blame crossword puzzles or lobster-eating pilgrims for thwarting America’s longtime demand-side value system, which was formerly PERSONAL RIGHTS and PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITIES, but is now commonly held to be merely (obversely/sadly) public rights and personal responsibilities. The latter is based on supply-side (top-down) moralizing, and makes no sense outside of religious sentiment.

Another Note: Personally, I think this debate also gets into gender equations, as in who gets to control the baby-making process, but that is more problematic (if it is not somewhat equal). There is a slight problem with a male being told that he cannot have say in an abortion one way or another, but has to pay for it regardless (personal responsibility without personal rights). Likewise, even the parents in disagreement raises a public problem and several dilemmas. Where is Solomon’s sword now?

Actually, I don’t think any of those cases boil down to determining whose life is more important.

Virtually every pro-life advocate around believes that abortion is justified when there is no other way to save the mother’s life. However, if the fetus is viable, it can be delivered prematurely via C-section. If it isn’t, then the fetus would die anyway, so you may as well save the mother. In other words, it’s not just a matter of deciding which one you want to save. (And if such situations do exist – which is doubtful – then the physician should act in his best medical judgment. Such a procedure would not constitute an abortion in any traditional sense.)

As for rape and incest, that’s a red herring. These cases, tragic as they are, do NOT boil down to “the judgment of whose life is more important.” After all, the mother’s life is not endangered simply because she’s carrying the product of rape or incest.

The OP was right. The vast majority of abortion arguments are ultimately silenced by the question, “Is the fetus a living human being?” If it isn’t, then no amount of argumentation is necessary to justify an abortion. However, if it is, then no amount of argumentation is sufficient.

It’s not about discouraging discussion but asking better and more targeted questions. The abortion debate is hardly new to this board and there are many threads relating to it.

Slaquer can ask all of the questions he/she wants no matter how many times they have been discussed before. I’m not even really taking Slaquer to task over this (and I apologize if that was how my post was taken). I’m merely pointing out to a newcomer other features of the SDMB that he/she might want to take advantage of.

At 24 weeks, there is over an 80% survival rate after premature delivery. I think this is the middle of the grey area where most pro-choice people start the question the morality of abortion.

There are extremes, however. One side would remind you that the morbidity and mortality of delivery is always higher than that of abortion. They would argue that “nature intended” a 40 week gestation in which the fetus was solely dependent on the mother. As such, they argue that the fetus is part of the mother up until crowning.

Another extreme argues that there is a potential human being in every implanted conceptus. Since we can never draw a clear line between fetus and human as medical technology is constantly improving, then we should afford all rights to the conceptus as to the mother.

I tend to side with the pragmatic pro-choice view, with public health sympathies to the pro-choice extreme (mother’s life and fetal abnormalities). Risks to the mother’s life are not uncommon and may prevent situations in which C-section is done. Preeclampsia usually develops after week 20. There are other examples.

Amniocentesis can only be done at 15 weeks gestation. Chorionic villi sampling can be done at week 10. Neither amnio or CVS is indicated for low-risk pregnancies, however, and significant defects can be missed until late in pregnancy. It is sad, but I feel that bringing a child with no potential quality of life into the world is wrong and a burden on the medical system.

After reading some of the replies, I’d like to chime in with a few comments.

First, thank you Jeff_42 for your comment about using other boards. No, I did not take it the wrong way, I actually appreciated it greatly. Since I did open this discussion again, though, I would like to comment on some of the points raised as briefly as possible.

JubilationTCornpone: The case of rape/incest is a Red Herring for the very reasons you state. If the premise that a preborn baby is a human (be it as a fetus, embryo, or whatever), then I cannot see how we could justify destroying a human life. In the case of imminent danger to the mother’s life, albeit a rare case, I believe that the woman should have some leeway in the matter. I think this does introduce some very grey areas and would be a good discussion in and of itself for another time. I am more interested in the broad argument of abortion.

Brian Bunnyhurt: I will assume you are not a conservative republican. :slight_smile: If a pregnant mother is not carrying a human being, then the argument of rights versus responsibilities may hold some truth. However, I do not have any right to physically injure another human being and certainly not kill another human being. That is my question: Is this not what the abortion question hinges on? If so, when does a fetus, baby, embryo, etc. become a human being for which we must respect their fundamental rights?

I think edwino has touched on this subject briefly. However, I think it is difficult to judge whether a child has no potential for a certain quality of life. Unfortunately I can only talk from what I have heard from parents and friends who suffer from what some may consider a poorer quality of life, but they find that these people are quite happy and fulfilled. To edwino I ask this: Haven’t we already seen the effects from trying to judge who can have a quality life and can make a better contribution to society?

Ok, this is long…sorry. I look forward to your comments!

With my above post, I meant disorders like anencephaly and others like it in which there is definitely no quality of life. There should be no law which forces a woman to bear an anencephalic fetus to term.

As a personal note, being an Ashkenazi Jew, I feel the same way about Tay-Sachs. In Tay-Sachs, development is normal until about 6-9 months. After this, the child begins to lose milestones to the point of being completely incapacitated by age 2. Most die by age 3. I think honestly that there is no gain for anyone involved to bring such a child into the world. This is especially true because most of the time it is an autosomal recessive disorder and 75% of the children produced out of that breeding pair will be phenotypically normal.

But I’ll agree. It is rather distasteful to start aborting based on other more “grey area” genetic diseases and congenital abnormalities. These would be diseases like sickle cell, cystic fibrosis, or even adrenoleukodystrophy. They have a variable course, with death in childhood to early adulthood. You could probably in a pinch put chromosomal abnormalities into this category as well – trisomy disorders range into functionality. Abnormalities like spina bifida, cleft palate, or holoprosencephaly are not always impairing, but they define the lower end of a spectrum which at its other end (anencephaly again for spina bifida) is nightmarish.

I think it would be a woman’s choice in this case. As much as I don’t like agreeing with Bunnyhurt, I don’t like the government to pass laws dictating public morality.
If you don’t find abortion distasteful, and there is a definite argument to whether a fetus should be afforded the rights of a human being, then there should be no laws against abortion. Granted, adoption takes much of the steam out of this argument, but I still don’t think it is the government’s job to force a woman to deliver a trisomy 18 or cri-du-chat or Angelman syndrome child even if she will be giving it up for adoption. Childbirth is still a fairly risky proposition, especially for something that will be of no benefit for the person undertaking the risk.

Flame away.

I somewhat disagree that individuals do not have the right to kill another person in all cases, for qualified reasons of course. This begs two questions immediately. Do humans have the right to terminate their own life? And, are there logical or ethical exceptions to this ban on killing, personal or public?

I reserve any rights for myself not otherwise specified ethically or logically. By instinct, I will/can kill someone who immediately threatens my life, or perhaps even someone who threatens your life. Also, I favor the bombing of legal enemies during wartime, by reasoning that if someone innocent dies, that is the terrible waste of war, and good reason to avoid war. However, I am concerned over this last reason, because if I knew someone innocent might die, I would always reconsider. Therefore I never favor retaliation bombing of cities. Also, capital punishment clearly comes to mind here.

The logical flaw with capital punishment: If the argument is based on crime deterrent, then the IMPLICIT assumption is that anything that deters crime is also just, which is rarely the case using violence. Also, if capital punishment is based on punishment, then that is another issue which delves into the ethics of sadistic pleasure. If it is based on saving valuable resources to restrain a threat to society, then we have failed to demonstrate this, apparently, since the legal costs are currently more than incarceration, for good reason. Problems abound. But we digress.

Now, as per the assumption that killing another person is always wrong in all cases. Why? If you can untie that knot, then we can proceed. Also, we must avoid anthropomorphic fallacies, which tempt us to say that a fetus is the same as everyone else at all times (anthropomorphic fallacies are often based in monotheism, where one unknown God is always humanized, or dehumanized as the case may be). Also, the argument of human potential is also problematic. I can argue that someone in constant pain from an incurable disease can be permitted to self-terminate, or government-terminate (if comatose) for reasons of having no potential to gain from more expensive care that could be used for someone else. Thusly, we could likewise say that fetus has obvious potential, but considering it is an unwanted baby, healthy or otherwise, this argumentive potential is used against us at some point because there is more negative potential of costing society millions in medical bills or law enforcement.

Then there is the huge argument that we have been unjustly limited in this debate, that the true means of abortion prevention, like sex education and birth control, have been unjustly elimated, forcing us to debate the merits of unnecessary solutions. (To me, that seems to be the real problem here, we have been forced to debate abortion as birth control, which seems wrong because it probably is when considering that little effort has been publically to prevent it, and therefore little effort should be made publically to outlaw it, I could argue).

Now, why is it wrong to kill another person in all cases? It seems that this absolutist assumption leads to more suffering to me that cannot be easily justified, because if we say it corrupts our human sensibilities, that may be valid, but so does allowing civilization to stumble into dire poverty from bad breeding management.

I too prefer to agree with others by the details, it’s more honest that way and avoids prejudice.

i don’t think it matters what we call the fetus - human being, blob of tissue, whatever. if we call it a human, then the debate becomes ‘should we legally be allowed to kill a human before it’s born’. abortion rights supporters will say yes, abortion rights deniers will say no. so no matter what we define the elements of abortion to be, the issue still remains: are we offended by the concept of abortion or not? i’m not, even if i agree to call the fetus ‘human’ and the act of abortion ‘murder’. if you want to call abortion murder, then i’ll argue that women should have the right to murder their pre-born children.

Thanks for your replies…allow me to respond.

Edwino: You stated,
“I don’t like the government to pass laws dictating public morality.” I can certainly understand that position, however, I would think that if one could successfully argue that an unborn baby is actually a living human being, then it becomes no longer a question of morality but of protection of human life. Murder is not illegal because it is immoral, it is illegal because it poses a threat to human life.

Although I do not like to reason by analogy because of the problems that often arises, I do see problems with your argument that the mother should be able to choose whether or not to have an abortion based on whether she feels the child can lead a productive life. Holding fast to the assumption that a pregnant mother is carrying a human being, we run into a problem of determining whose right it is to determine the life of another. For example, if a mother has a son who grows up to live on the streets, and who takes on serious physical disorders, does she have the right to ask a doctor to kill her son because he can no longer live a fulfilling life? I am nervous to use this analogy for fear of being accused of using sensationalistic arguments, but please see it for its objective merits. Taking this analagy to the womb, if a mother is pregnant with a human being who may not be able to lead a fulfilling life due to physical ailments as mentioned, why should she be able to kill that human being?

Finally, why do women have children? For their own benefit? To some extent this is true…but human life has more importance than just the benefit of those around us. So the argument that if the woman cannot receive any benefit from bringing a disabled human into the world neglects what I am trying to bring into question: if the unborn baby is truly a human being, doesn’t that human being deserve the right to live?

Brian Bunnyhurt: Allow me to clarify what I wrote…and thank you for making your distinctions. Is taking the life of another human being always wrong? Great question…difficult answer. I will answer you this: One should never take the life of another human being unless it is the only option available in order to avoid a greater evil. An example would be if my life was in grave danger, your life were in grave danger, and even in some cases war. However, to remain on the topic, I do not want to get into a “Just War Theory” discussion as that is another topic.

Does a fetus, if it is a human being, warrant the same rights of other human beings? I think with this point I will have to add another premise to the assumptions that I have asked us to assume. Namely, that all persons have the right to life. If we do not believe that all human persons have the right to life, then this argument becomes a different discussion in which we must discuss who has the right to life, and if a human person does not have the right to life, why this is so. In the case of capital punishment it can be argued that through the actions of the individual, in order to protect the rest of society’s right to life, this one person has lost their right to life. But what about a fetus, if it is a human person?

Finally, I do not follow your argument that since we are not using well managed breeding management such as birth control in society, we must then allow the result the destroying of the result of two people’s negligence to use birth control. In this case with the already stated assumption, a human life.

Zwaldd: Are we offended by the concept of abortion or not? It is not a matter of personal preference, rather a matter of protecting a human being, if that is what a fetus truly is. If the statement that it is a human is a true statement, then that human should have the right to life.

As always, I am looking forward to your responses.

I think that zwaldd’s point was the even if we could 100% resolve the semantic argument regarding whether or not a fetus is a “human being”, the abortion issue would not be resolved. It’s not that simple. For example, suppose that it is proven beyond all argument that a fetus is, in fact, a “human being”. Upon this declaration, you wouldn’t suddenly have pro-choice people slapping themselves in the forehead and saying “Golly gee, you’re right!! I’ve been wrong all this time!”. All that you’re going to have is a group of people who will believe that it is still the woman’s right to decide whether she wants to allow that “human” to be born.

Some people, myself included, value existing life (and quality thereof) over potential life. I do not want a child. I take more than average precautions to do my best not to have one. I am not willing to remain sexless in order to ensure that this is so. If were to become accidentally pregnant, you can be damned sure I’d be at the clinic in short order. You see, I think that having/raising a child is a huge responsibility, and it should not be undertaken by any person who is not willing to assume that responsibility completely and willingly. That’s no life for me, and it’s sure not a life I’d want for any child.

crap jadis, you beat my freakin’ slow connection. anyhow…

not if you’re for abortion rights. i don’t think unborn humans have a right to life. as an ‘unborn human murder’ proponent, i believe that whether a fetus lives or dies should be at the discretion of the parents, and more specifically, the mother.

Or, to use an analogy to make the point…

We don’t force dead people in our society to donate organs to save the lives of the living…even though it does them no harm (they are dead) and we have a huge shortage of organs available for transplant. Why would we force a woman to be preganant (and donate the body’s only disposible organ - the placenta - to the process) to save the life of the “baby,” when it could cause her harm, and, at the very least, is a major inconvience. We force no one to take in the homeless, even though people freeze on the streets, even though that would be merely inconvienent (and maybe dangerous, but so is pregnancy).

Life is NOT sacred in our society, despite claims to the contrary.

Although I agree with zwaldd, Jadis, Bunnyhurt, and Dangerosa about this being a semantic rather than an ethical point, I’ll play devil’s advocate.

Let’s debate what a human being is.

A good Catholic once told me that he defined the concept of being a person as “the capacity to love.” This works fine for me, but I can see where people may have problems with it. There is no objective test for capacity to love. No jokes about divorce lawyers, please.

How does the medical profession define life? Well, in Texas, it is defined by the apnea test. Basically, if a person is ventilator dependent and you take them off the ventilator and they do not breathe for around a minute, they fail. At that point, they are considered dead. No further life support is mandated, and in fact, at that point all life support is discontinued (except in certain situations, for instance if the family is traveling to see the now-dead person). I don’t think this standard can be applied to fetuses, however, because they normally don’t start breathing at all until after delivery.

I would like your definition of human life. I cannot justify to myself that a growing fetus who is 100% dependent on the womb for survival should in any way be afforded all of the rights of its life-giver, the mother.

I agree semantics has its place, but only in sentence structure. This is an ethics argument to me, top to bottom. It is unethical to prohibit abortion, just as it is to encourage someone to breed if they aren’t ready to, or perhaps don’t want to. There is no race/breeding responsibility to debate, just personal and legal ones. Also, the vast differences between Mexico and Scandanavia are not semantic. Thanks.


Fair enough, I lumped all of the “it doesn’t matter if it is a human being or not” together. Point taken. I apologize. I agree with you that a fetus is most definitely not a human being, but even if it is, in is unethical to force a woman to bear an unwanted pregnancy.

Is this OK?