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January 2, 2017 / compassioninpolitics

The ethical case against abortion

Libertarian Justifications Against Abortion: The ethical, secular, and Christian case against abortion

My Personal Viewpoint
I’m honestly **somewhat** mixed on this issue. I think that Clinton’s policy of minimizing the number of abortions that occurs is important–and certainly a good goal. I respect the issue of choice–but think that is a simplistic analysis of what may embody larger issues–and larger ethical considerations.

I say the following having never been a father, having never had to deal with these issues personally, and having never been pregnant. I don’t intend to offend, but perhaps offer an alternative perspective or way of looking at the conflict.

For the purposes of the discussion, I will define an abortion as the termination of a pregnancy after the first trimester. This seems a more morally and ethically defensible standard perhaps (the Mayo Clinic link I’ve provided below could be used to justify an earlier definition of “human”–although not grounded in typical notions of agency, but instead on human characteristics at 8 weeks even before the end of the first trimester. At a minimum, this seems to be able to trigger the animal rights parallel I point to below as well).

Rights of Choice are Checked by the Harm Principle:
Choices are constrained when another human life is at stake. This is basic Harm Principle logic. The logic of John Stuart Mill or even current day libertarians can apply here. At a minimum, this standard does say that when we know its a life from a scientific perspective there is a massive presumption that its an illegitimate rights violation to have. For instance, we use a similar standard in the context of indoor air smoking, because absolute autonomy imposes significant health risks on those around the smoker.

In line with this standard, in fact, if you accidentally kill a pregnant mother you are guilty of two deaths, not just one. Abortion simply can’t pass the harm principle–and will each passing day toward full person-hood it gets more and more philosophically difficult to make that justification.

Rights = Responsibility
Rights imply responsibility. If you can’t use a car properly and sanely, the government takes away your right to drive a car. A society in which fetus’s are terminated creates a disposable-society and consumer-mindset around human procreation–that devalues humans. Rights outside a context of community means very little, in fact community and the reciprocal nature of rights give them both their context and meaning.

It seems odd to apply an absolute autonomy standard on abortion, yet use issues which are more contextual on other issues life free speech and gun rights.

Another similar issue is application of the idea of animal rights to the fetus. In the context of other places in society, the idea of animal rights. The notion that animals have more rights in some cases than fetuses in advanced months seems out of kilter with our most basic intuitions about birth.

Empathy/Justice/Veil of Ignorance:
Empathy for the least advantaged. In the case of abortion, the aborted fetus never gets a voice or choice. Never. They aren’t ever considered more than a clump of cells.

For instance, when a couple is pregnant with a fetus, they already treat the developing baby as a human being and those around them do as well (people don’t say “my fetus” they say “my baby” and they ohh and ahh over their first
visual experience of the baby). Admittedly, this later practice is certainly more based on intuition than on at attempt to create a scientific definition of life beginning, but I think perhaps should still be part of the discussion. Re-naming something as merely a fetus, doesn’t deny that it shares the parents DNA and even features very early in the development process.

Choices and Consequences:
There are consequences to choices. If you make bad loans or write bad checks you have to deal with the consequences. You don’t get to externalize the burdens of your poor risks and decisions on other individuals.

Legalized Abortion Causes Doctors to Violate the Hippocratic Oath:
For instance, Mary Meehan in the Progresive points out, “The prohibition of abortion in the ancient Hippocratic Oath is well
known. Less familiar to many is the Oath of Geneva, formulated by the World Medical
Association in 1948, which included these words: “I will maintain the utmost respect for
human life from the time of conception.” A Declaration of the Rights of the Child,
adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959, declared that “the child, by
reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care,
including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” Why more children’s rights advocates haven’t spoken out on this issue is indeed puzzling.

Meehan goes on to point out four key considerations on the abortion issue (I will highlight 3 of the issues):

First, it is out of character for the Left to neglect the weak and helpless. The
traditional mark of the Left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient or the boat people on the high seas. The basic instinct of the Left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves — and that instinct is absolutely sound. It is what keeps the human proposition going.

Second, the right to life underlies and sustains every other right we have. It is, as Thomas Jefferson and his friends said, self-evident. Logically, as well as in our Declaration of Independence, it comes before the right to liberty and the right to property. The right to exist, to be free from assault by others, is the basis of equality. Without it, the other rights are meaningless, and life becomes a sort of warfare in which force decides everything. There is no equality, because one person’s convenience takes precedence over another’s life, provided only that the first person has
more power. If we do not protect this right for everyone, it is not guaranteed for everyone, because anyone can become weak and vulnerable to assault.

Third, abortion is a civil-rights issue. Dick Gregory and many other blacks view
abortion as a type of genocide. Confirmation of this comes in the experience of pro-life activists who find open bigotry when they speak with white voters about public funding of abortion. Many white voters believe abortion is a solution for the welfare problem and a way to slow the growth of the black population. I worked two years ago for a liberal, pro-life candidate who was appalled by the number of anti-black comments he found when
discussing the issue. And Representative Robert Dornan of California, a conservative pro-life leader, once told his colleagues in the House, “I have heard many rock-ribbed Republicans brag about how fiscally conservative they are and then tell me that I was an idiot on the abortion issue.” When he asked why, said Dornan, they whispered, “Because we have to hold them down, we have to stop the population growth.” Dornan elaborated: “To them, population growth means blacks, Puerto Ricans, or other Latins,” or anyone who
“should not be having more than a polite one or two `burdens on society.’ ”

Fourth, abortion exploits women. Many women are pressured by spouses, lovers, or parents into having abortions they do not want. Sometimes the coercion is subtle, as when a husband complains of financial problems. Sometimes it is open and crude, as when a boyfriend threatens to end the affair unless the woman has an abortion, or when parents
order a minor child to have an abortion. Pro-life activists who do “clinic counseling” (standing outside abortion clinics, trying to speak to each woman who enters, urging her to have the child) report that many women who enter clinics alone are willing to talk and to listen. Some change their minds and decide against abortion. But a woman who is accompanied by someone else often does not have the chance to talk, because the husband
or boyfriend or parent is so hostile to the pro-life worker.

Abortion Isn’t the Only Option:
Alternatives to abortion do exist: adoption.

Other options include:

* Nonprofit assistance
* Church assistance
* Family assistance
* Government assistance
* The father and mother of the baby taking full responsibility for their choices.

Additional Implications: Informed Consent for Abortion Procedures
Even if the lines of reasoning and thinking above aren’t compelling, I think it shifts the debate in terms of issues of informed consent for people who get abortions. In one sense, this has the effect of inverting the question of choice–and saying that its best achieved when used in the context of informed consent. This was a standard established at Nurenburg I believe and is at least more consonant with our views on medical procedures.

Additional Reflections:
Questions like: Is it a life? When does it become “life” (ie what month
or day)? Is a fetus in the womb just potential life? are ones which
are hard to deal with as an individual or as an organization.
My guess is such institutions as the Mayo Clinic are more equipped to answer such questions than am I (at least developmentally). Here is their process of fetus development toward being what we legally consider a human being:

* While generally understanding his reasons, I think John Morrow ‘s metaphor is a bit hyperbolic. He says:

So, in that context, is it moral for a state to impose it’s will on a woman and force her to relinquish control of her own body and essentially use her as an incubator?

I think it unnecessarily narrows the focus to the agent, when in fact, the choice to take the risks associated with sex has been made and it exists in the larger context of direct potential harm to other individuals.

Research Links:

* Harm Principle:
* Veil of Ignorance:
* Informed Consent:
* Meehan abortion article:

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