It is a common bias today that the pro-life position is a religious belief while the pro-choice position is a scientific one. This bias likely stems from the reality that pro-lifers are often Catholics and Protestants. And since secular society believes religion and science are antithetical, they conclude that the pro-choice position must therefore be the scientific one.
The truth is, the pro-life position is actually based on the biological science of embryology and the sanctity of human life, while the pro-choice position is based on the subjective views of bodily autonomy, pregnancy by rape, viability, the mother’s health, eugenics, and the spiritualization of Personhood.
Here’s a comparative overview of the two positions:
The Pro-life Position: Embryology
It is a scientific fact that a brand new human being comes into existence at conception (fertilization). Not at implantation, not when the fetus becomes viable, not when the fetus is born.
The usual debate is about whether or not an embryo (a fertilized egg) is an actual human being. Often “egg as person” is compared to “sperm as person,” as though they were synonymous. But this assumes that the egg is unfertilized; in which case, it would be an ovum. And it is not the ovum that is in question. What users of this argument neglect to clarify is that they’re comparing a fertilized egg (the whole equation) to a sperm (only halfthe equation). By just 21 days after conception, an embryo has a beating heart. A sperm or an ovum (so long as they remain separate) will never have a beating heart.
The pro-choice position looks at the embryo, agrees that it is human DNA but then insists it is no more a human being than a tumor. But a tumor (a cluster of growing cancer cells) will never be anything but a tumor. It is no more “human” than a finger or an eyeball; it is a mutated body part or a piece of the body. The embryo, on the other hand, is not a piece of anything: it is an entire entity.
It is then argued that “just because an embryo has human DNA, it doesn’t mean it is a human being. A sperm has human DNA, too.” They overlook a crucial difference. While the sperm and the egg do individually contain human DNA (the DNA of the father or the mother) there is no new human being involved. It is thus scientifically inaccurate to compare sperm to embryos because “they both have human DNA.” Unveiled, this is the same as the tumor argument. They are comparing a bodily emission (sperm) to an entity (the embryo).
When a sperm and egg join at conception, however, the human DNA is no longer that of the father or mother: the DNA is now unique to the embryo, and is, in fact, the embryo’s DNAEye color, hair color, sex, and intelligence are all determined at conception. A tumor contains no such blueprint. This isn’t even remotely a religious belief; it is a scientific fact.
The pro-choicer will usually go on to make size comparisions at this point saying, “Surely you aren’t comparing a cluster of cells the size of a coin to a full-term infant,” but this is a moot point. The pro-choicer, if pressed, is not going to agree that their leg is more valuable than their brain just because it is bigger; or that a 6 ft adult is more valuable than a 4 ft child. Size is irrelevant. And according to the Center for Disease Control, the majority of abortions actually take place between 8-13 weeks gestation anyway. These are fetuses who already have visibly developed arms, legs, fingers and toes, a face and a beating heart.
The pro-life position, based on the science of embryology, is that an embryo and a fetus are both human beings, separate from the mother, and just as deserving of equal human rights as she.
The Pro-choice Position #1: Bodily Autonomy
Abortion is self-defense. Just as a woman can legally kill a man who is, say, trying to rape her, she can also kill the embryo or fetus who is using her uterus without her consent.
Here are two reasons why the rape comparison is invalid:
1) A rapist has perverted intentions for the woman and is deliberately violating her body in a manner that he understands to be a crime. He therefore forfeits his right to life by committing this crime and she can legally injure or kill him in self-defense. The fetus, however, has no perverted or evil intentions for her mother, nor is she deliberately violating her mother’s body: she has no comprehension of crime as yet. For example, a toddler wielding a loaded gun wouldn’t be viewed as a criminal, even if he inadvertently harmed someone. The fetus is just as much an unwitting party as a woman being raped.
2) The rapist has chosen to violate the woman’s body. The fetus has not chosen to violate her mother’s body. She did not choose to be conceived, did not put herself in the environment, and is therefore an innocent party.
To these, the pro-choicer may respond with the following:
“If the rapist was drunk or high, he isn’t deliberately choosing to violate the woman’s body either. In this case, he doesn’t realize what he is doing but he is still guilty. So, in the same way, though the fetus doesn’t realize she is violating her mother’s body, she is still guilty.”
Again, an invalid comparison. Here’s why:
The rapist chose to get drunk or high, and this is why he is responsible for his actions during the intoxication. The same goes for drinking and driving. He may have been too intoxicated to comprehend that he was breaking the law while he was doing it, but he will still be held responsible for it by a court of law because it was his decision to get drunk. The fetus, on the other hand, did not choose to be conceived (compare: choosing to get drunk) and is therefore, not responsible for her actions (i.e. “violating” her mother’s body by residing in her womb). This is why the innocent passenger in a drunk driver’s car will not be held responsible if the driver crashes it.
No one argues about whether or not a smoker is responsible for his lung cancer or that an alcoholic is responsible for her cirrhosis. It is considered a given. If a woman has consented to intercourse, she has also consented to the risk of pregnancy; just as the smoker consents to the risk of cancer. It’s not that they consented to the unplanned pregnancy itself but that they consented to the risk; and therefore the possible consequences as well. If a skydiver’s parachute doesn’t open and he perishes, we will not go about saying that he consented to die. That would be nonsense of course. But we will say that he consented to the risk of death when he jumped from the plane.
In the same way, if a woman becomes pregnant accidentally during consensual sex, she is directly responsible for the innocent fetus who is now living in her womb because she willingly took the direct risk of that possible outcome. The fetus did not ask to be brought into existence but she is nevertheless dependent on her mother to protect her and keep her safe until she can live outside the womb. Our governments hold us responsible for the care of our dependants of all other ages, and if by abuse or neglect we cause harm or death to them, we will be prosecuted for it. So why aren’t we held responsible for our youngest dependent of all, the helpless fetus who is trusting us to take care of her?
To this the pro-choicer may make an additional comparison to rape saying, “So, if a woman dresses provocatively and gets raped, is she thus responsible for the rape?” No. Provocative clothing is not the cause of rape. Rape occurs for a myriad of reasons which involve the mental make-up of the rapist specifically, not the victim’s. This would be like saying that if someone breaks into your house (which happened to have an open window) and attacks you, it’s your fault for living in a house with an open window. Or that if a tyrannical country invades yours, it’s your fault for living in your particular country. Men rape women because they are attracted to the female body in general (or whatever their particular perversion might be). If someone develops lung cancer from second-hand smoke, we do not hold them responsible. In the same way, a woman is not responsible for being raped just because she happened to cross a rapist’s path. The difference with pregnancy is that pregnancy is the direct result of copulation; just as cirrhosis is the direct result of alcoholism. This is why a woman is responsible for her unplanned pregnancy if she consented to sex and its inherent risks.
When it comes to “bodily autonomy,” the pro-choicer compares rape (or any type of physical attack with the intent to harm) to an unwanted pregnancy – but the true parallel is actually between the violence of rape and the violence of abortion. In the same way that a man puts his own body and needs before the woman’s, the woman who aborts her baby has put her own body and needs before her child’s. In other words, the rapist violates the woman’s bodily autonomy just as the woman violates the bodily autonomy of her fetal child.
The Pro-choice Position #2: Pregnancy by Rape
When a woman is raped, she has not consented to sex, and thus has not consented to the risk of pregnancy either. Therefore, she is not responsible for the child growing within her, and should have the right to terminate the pregnancy.
The pregnancy by rape argument, as you’ll have noticed, is nearly identical to the bodily autonomy argument. They are two sides of the same coin because they both overlook the human rights of the innocent fetus who is caught in the middle. That being said, a woman who is pregnant by rape is in the same boat as the spouse who develops lung cancer from second-hand smoke: They are victims.
The pro-choicer should first of all be asked the following: Is a man subject to capitol punishment when he is convicted of rape? Then why is the fetus put to death when she is a completely innocent party in the rape that took place? This would be like sending the passenger in the vehicle of a drunk driver to jail for the crime of drinking and driving while setting the driver free. To this the pro-choicer will likely respond, “Be that as it may, a woman can kill the rapist herself during the attack, in self-defense. Therefore, being innocent, she can kill the fetus in self-defense as well.” This is a valid argument and shouldn’t be ignored. But like any argument, we must take it to its logical conclusion. Consider the following scenario:
You are abducted and knocked unconscious only to awaken hours later missing one of your kidneys. Should you thus have the legal right to hunt down the person it was donated to, take a knife and cut it out of them, killing them? Would this be acceptable knowing that the person who received the kidney was completely innocent (i.e. didn’t know the kidney was stolen)? After all, you didn’t consent to donating your kidney to them.
As we can see, there are actually two victims here, not one: The person whose kidney was stolen (compare: a woman who is raped) and the person who received the kidney (compare: the embryo/fetus who was conceived and now relies on her mother’s uterus for survival). We would hardly compare the person who received the kidney to the person who stole the kidney. Yet this is exactly what we do when we compare the fetus to the rapist.
The analogy stops here however, because unlike a kidney donation that is permanent (you can’t lend your kidney), a woman is only pregnant for nine months. Then she gets her empty uterus back and the innocent baby remains alive. It is a temporary situation. And a woman is not obligated to raise a child conceived in rape either; this is not a life sentence. She is free to place her baby with an adoptive family.
The pro-choicer may then respond with the following: “This is like saying that a woman can be raped for nine months straight ‘because it is only temporary’ ” and “Abortion in the case of rape is an act of compassion towards the victimized woman. Only a cruel person would insist that she suffer through a pregnancy as well.”
These are indeed valid points, but the conundrum here is that abortion in the case of rape or incest is a second act of violence against an innocent person. It doesn’t undue the rape and trauma that the woman endured; it ends the life of an innocent human being who is just as much of a victim as the woman. Nevertheless, pregnancy via rape is traumatic and tragic. It would be unjust to downplay the acute mental and physical suffering of a woman in this position.
Prior to the legalization of abortion-on-demand, abortion was in fact available to rape victims and women with health complications. What changed with Roe v. Wade (and similar legislations in other countries) is that now abortion could be procured for any reason. “Pregnancy by rape” is frequently used in debates as a smokescreen to avoid discussing much more relevant issues (like viability and eugenics) – for if abortion were only legal in the case of rape or the mother’s very life being at stake (both situations being rare on the grand scheme of things), as many as 98% of the current abortions would no longer be justified.
The Pro-choice Position #3: Viability
Until a fetus can survive on its own outside of the woman’s body (the womb/uterus), it is not a real human being.
Of all the pro-choice arguments, this one tends to be viewed as the most scientific. Yet it has no scientific basis whatsoever. Here’s why:
The word “viable” can not be adequately defined or set in stone because “viability” is based solely on medical technology. Fifty years ago, any infant born prior to 30 weeks gestation was not likely to survive. Today, infants as young as 20 weeks gestation have survived outside of the womb. Why? Because medical technology has advanced greatly in fifty years. In less developed countries, however, a 30-week-old preemie is still unlikely to survive, because they simply don’t have the same access to medical technology (man-made equipment) as we have here. So, according to the pro-choice belief that a fetus is not a human being until viable, a 20-week-old fetus here is a real person while a fetus of the same age elsewhere is not. This is nonsense and merely proves that viability is based on technology rather than biology.
The Pro-choice Position #4: The Mother’s Health
Abortion needs to be legal for all nine months of pregnancy in case the mother’s health/life becomes at risk.
It is a rare case when a woman’s very life is at stake because of her pregnancy. When there is such a case, could she not deliver early by induction or ceserean section (c-section), giving the infant a chance to survive? But if it’s too early in the pregnancy to give birth and the woman needs immediate treatment (say, radiation/chemotherapy, or an urgent surgery for disease/trauma), then the consequent death of the fetus is a tragedy. I do not view this as infanticide: Rather, it is the difference between two people drowning and only being able to reach out and rescue one of them, versus needlessly throwing someone out of a boat who can’t swim.
This is where the controversial Partial Birth Abortion (PBA) comes into play.
PBA is one of the most barbaric forms of abortion. A second or third trimester fetus is too big to be removed with a vacuum, so he/she must be delivered somehow. In PBA, the fetus is delivered live and feet first to the head, at which time the abortionist punctures the base of the skull with scissors and then sucks out the brains with an aspirator. Another, less brutal, form of late-term abortion is to kill the fetus with a lethal injection inserted through the womb into the fetus’ heart and deliver the dead baby through an early induction labor. Now, if a woman had a rare condition in which her baby must be removed right away or else she will die, why perform PBA or stillbirth induction? Why not a live early induction or c-section? If a doctor is going to take the time out of saving the mother to deliver the baby all the way to his/her head, why not just pull the baby the rest of the way out? What is the point in taking the additional time to brutally kill the infant? The alternative, lethal injection, is of course less gory and shields the fetus from suffering physical pain, but the end result is still the same. So, why take the extra time to kill the fetus when she could be delivered live and taken to the preemie ward? There is no point, and that’s the point.
If a woman with a wanted pregnancy faces a medical emergency, she will most certainly want the doctors to try and save her baby, too. Clearly, PBA (et al) for “a woman’s health” is doublespeak for justifying infanticide should a woman decide late in the pregnancy that she no longer wants her baby.*
For this particular argument the burden of proof is on the pro-choicer: Ask them to give you a legitimate medical condition in which an actual 1st trimester abortion would be necessary (rather than a possible D&E should a miscarriage occur, or an ecoptic pregnancy in which the embryo has not implanted within the uterus). And, if they can come up with a life-threatening medical condition that involves the pregnancy specifically in the 2nd or 3rd trimester (say, the need for radiation or a life-threatening pregnancy complication), have them explain why PBA or lethal injection/induction should be performed rather than an early live induction or c-section.
*I have chosen not discuss late-term abortion for severe birth defects because it regards the ethics of euthanasia (i.e. mercy killing) and is a completely different topic matter.
The Pro-choice Position #5: Eugenics
Abortion should be legal in cases of fetal defects such as physical deformities (including Cleft Lip), Spina Bifida, Anencephaly, Tay Sachs, Trisomy 13 & 18, Down Syndrome, etc. Abortion should also be legal to allow for sex-selection (i.e. aborting an unwanted male or female fetus).
Here’s the thing. We do not allow the slaughter of individuals with mental or physical defects of any other age, so why is it acceptable to kill a preborn infant for the very same reason? This is both age discrimination and the dehumanization of the disabled, who are considered disposable. We condemned Hitler, not just for the genocide of the Jewish people, but also for the eugenic slaughter of the disabled (including people who merely wore glasses), yet today it is acceptable to end the life of a fetus simply because she has a cleft lip; a condition easily corrected by surgery. It’s estimated that today as many as 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are also destroyed. We are even seeing successful lawsuits against hospitals for infants born with previously undetected disabilities by parents who openly admit they would have aborted their baby if they’d known ahead of time.
Do those who support abortion for fetal defects also support rounding up all the child, adolescent and adult Down Syndrome individuals and putting them in gas chambers? Or rounding up anyone in a wheelchair, with a prosthetic limb, or a severe learning disability, and lining them up before a firing squad?
If it isn’t acceptable in the latter, why is it acceptable in the former?
Sex-selection abortions, on the other hand, are done for cultural reasons and have nothing to do with health. Males are believed to be more valuable than females in certain countries. This is called sexism, something most pro-choicers claim to abhor. And as a result of these sex-selection abortions, millions of baby girls are now missing worldwide. Countries like China and India are facing severe imbalances in their male-to-female ratios; consequently raising the rates of prostitution and rape.
Sex-selection abortion also puts pro-choice feminists in the paradoxical position of defending the devaluation and inequality of females.
The Pro-choice Position #6: The Spiritualization of Personhood
A fetus is not a human being until she has a soul; that’s what makes us persons. Or: Personhood occurs after the cerbral cortex develops (i.e. consciousness), or viability (can survive outside the womb), or birth (can breathe through her own lungs). Also used: when a fetus dies from abortion, his/her spirit returns to heaven to be sent back at a later time when the mother decides to have a subsequent wanted pregnancy.
The definition of “Personhood” is highly subjective amongst pro-choicers.
Contrast the various and sundry pro-choice definitions of personhood with the pro-lifer’s single, unchanging definition: “A person is a human being, a member of the homo sapien species. And since a new human life comes into existence at fertilization, personhood begins at conception.”
Note the following absurdities:
1) Consciousness. As soon as you suggest that consciousness is required for personhood, you’re also suggesting that people in comas are temporarily non-persons, that those with severe mental disabilities aren’t persons, that children and adolescents are subhuman compared to adults because their brains are still developing, and that dead people are no longer persons.
2) Viability. A 20-week-old American fetus is a human being/person thanks to life-saving technology but a 20-week-old African fetus is not due to a lack of technology.
3) Birth. A 30-week preemie is a human being/person but a 41-week overdue fetus is not a human being.
Additionally, if a human being can hypothetically exist for a period of time without being a “person,” what precisely is a person? The pro-choicer will likely tell you that a person has consciousness (awareness) and emotions. Yet so do animals; but animals are not persons. What then is the difference between the species in which human beings are persons and the rest of the animals are non-persons?
If the pro-choicer is religious or spiritual, he might say “a soul/spirit,” which for him is likely synonymous with consciousness. If the pro-choicer is an atheist, she might say a person is someone who has the ability to reason; rationality being what sets us apart from the animals. And the religious/spiritual pro-choicer will probably also agree that rationality sets us apart from the animals. But in either case, once you have agreed that the difference between people and animals is rationality, not just consciousness, you’ll have exposed an Achille’s heel. Some pro-choicers have already discovered this and are now using it to promote post-birth abortions. Why? Because a 2nd trimester fetus does not have the ability to reason (rationality), nor does a full-term infant. The ability to recognize yourself as a “self” distinct from others is a degree of maturity which takes time to develop and occurs sometime toward the middle of the infant’s first year, reaching fruition by toddlerhood.
Subjective views on “personhood” therefore, cannot be the defining measure between humanity and sub-humanity: otherwise, 1) you’ve brought spirituality/religion into the equation (a “spirit”), 2) you’re basing the definition on technology rather than biology (viability), 3) you’re insisting that a lesser-developed preemie is a person while a fully-developed overdue fetus is not, and/or, 4) you’ll have to agree that post-birth abortion is just as ethical as a 1st trimester abortion (rationality); a position most pro-choicers would be unwilling to take.
The only scientific conclusion is that personhood must simply be the equivalent of being a human being (a homo sapien). Everything else is philosophical.
While it is certainly true that many pro-life activists are Christians, the pro-life premise itself is a scientific one. We strive day in and day out to defend the forsaken rights of preborn human beings legally killed by the thousands every single day of the year.
The pro-choice position not only blatantly denies the proved science of embryology, it does so with philosophical opinions – ironically many of which are based on religious and/or cultural beliefs that dehumanize the unborn.