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Is Abortion about the Right to Choose or is it Murder?
Is Abortion about the Right to Choose or is it Murder?
I wrote a few weeks ago my case for the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a quite popular belief – most people I know seem to agree that these are natural rights. But my own case, as outlined in the previous post, is intended to be more detailed than those that I've come across in my life. This is my reason for posting on this subject. I'm trying to lay a solid foundation for ethics. Also in more recent posts I wrote about why I don't think animals have rights and also I wrote about the primacy of the right to life over the other natural rights.
Today I want to expand on this and address the issue of abortion. This has been a very controversial issue for a long time. Those on the “pro choice” side say that a woman who is pregnant has full sovereignty over her own body and has the moral authority to do with her body what she wishes. They argue that a fetus is a part of the woman's body and she should be free to excise this part of herself. Those on the “pro life” side say that a fetus is a genetically distinct human being and therefore has its own rights and that because abortion takes the life of a human being, it is morally wrong.
Now, for the time being I am going to try to avoid getting into any legal implications with this issue. I want to try to address this issue from a purely moral standpoint. The conclusion made from this should certainly be useful in forming legal arguments and in forming the basis for laws, but this is a matter that is outside of the scope of this website.
First of all, what people usually don't realize when evaluating the moral worth of abortion and most issues that have a moral dimension is that morality, in order to be grounded in reality, must have a nonphysical component. I've written about this in past postings. The way that we understand the nonphysical is through our own experience of consciousness. There must be a nonphysical essence of the self, which is called the soul. The reason that killing someone is morally wrong is because of the consequences that this has on the soul, not because of what this does to the body.
If you think about it, your body is purely physical. It is just a mass of cells, made of molecules, made of protons, neutrons, electrons, subatomic particles. You will not find moral worth in the body. You will not be able to justify, only on purely physical grounds, that one state of affairs has a higher moral worth than another. So if I kill you, the mere fact that your body is no longer living does not alone justify that this is morally wrong. This is morally wrong of course, but because of the nonphysical affects that this action has on your soul.
So the question of abortion is entirely based on whether a fetus has a soul. If it does not, then it is really nothing more than a part of the woman's body. She of course has a soul, and her happiness and freedom are what are important if no other souls need to be considered. If she is acting on her own body and this affects no other distinct human bodies, then no other souls are affected either. On the other hand, if a fetus is a distinct human body, then it does have a soul and harming the fetus would therefore harm the soul that is nonphysically connected to the fetus.
Nobody denies that a fetus is genetically distinct from the mother, and of the father. It has a unique genetic code. Everyone has a unique genetic code through which they become who they are. The genetic code more or less determines how one develops into adulthood. We know that if a woman is pregnant and does all she can to ensure the health of her fetus, that it will most likely develop into a baby. If a baby is fed and nurtured, most likely it will eventually become a full grown adult human.
The argument put forth by the pro life crowd is that a fetus, in its early stages of development, is little more than a clump of cells and does not yet have the ability to live on its own or to think or feel pain or happiness. This is certainly true, but it does seem to me that this is also true of newborn babies. No baby can live on its own. All need nurturing from others to survive. Now, it is certainly the case that a fetus can not live outside the womb for any period of time, whereas a baby lacking nourishment will survive for a while. This is true with the current level of technology, but it will likely one day be possible to completely grow a fetus to term in an artificial incubator. I'm sure the day will come. So the theory that a fetus is not a human being because it is not viable outside the womb seems to define humanness based on the technology available at any given moment. This is not philosophically sound.
Also, certainly a fetus can not think, but it is doubtful that newborn babies can truly think. It may not appear that a fetus can feel pain, but every one of its cells, no matter how few there are, does react negatively to harm and positively to food. This is true from the moment of conception because this is the nature of life. A cell would have to be dead to not react negatively to threats and positively to food. This may not be pain or happiness as we know it, but how do we know that newborn babies feel pain or happiness in any way similar to our experience? And what is important here is not the physical aspect of pain or happiness, which is just nerve firings and cell reactions, but instead what is important is the soul's experience of valence, which is where value judgments come from. Perhaps a fetus has some experience of valence just by virtue of having a soul.
Does a fetus have a soul? Well it is genetically distinct. It is autonomous no less than any other human being. Surely it has dependencies on its mother, but we all are dependent on each other for viability. None of us can live without each other. If an adult has a soul by virtue of being a genetically distinct and having some degree of autonomy, then a fetus has a soul as well. Because fetuses have souls, it is morally wrong to abort a fetus. A mother has the moral obligation to carry the fetus to term. Also, the father has the moral obligation to help the mother as much as necessary. Once the baby is born, the parents have a moral obligation to either care for the baby or find someone else who will.