Ignorance and the abortion debate

I got into a discussion recently (I forget where) with a kid who was pro-choice. Admittedly, I probably should give him a little leeway because he’s a kid, but his stupidity was so impressive it was memorable. Anyway, it got me thinking and I now claim that most people’s positions on abortion are not based on consistent principles. Mine isn’t. Further, most people are in greater agreement about abortion than they realize.

To come to common ground on the issue, establish one fact at the outset: murder is wrong. Most people can agree to that. If they can’t, abortion isn’t the issue that needs discussing.

Once you’re in agreement that murder is wrong, it’s a matter of defining murder. The simplest definition is the taking of another human life. Then we get to the crux of the abortion issue: what is human life?

Now, the idiot kid that I was discussing this with claimed that as long as the baby is inside the mother’s body she can do whatever she wants to it. So, in his narrow, poorly conceived world, it’s the passage through the birth canal that makes the difference between human and non-human? I think that is, on its face, ridiculous. There is very little practical difference between the baby during the birth process and the baby seconds after birth. Certainly whatever differences there are, none of them should affect one’s classification as human. My simple young discussion partner was basically claiming that your humanity can be bestowed and revoked based on where you’re located. This side of the room you’re human, that side of the room you’re not and therefore don’t have any of the rights generally accepted to belong to humans.

Generally, one’s position on abortion will depend on where one draws the line of when someone becomes human. Those who support a woman’s right to have an abortion will draw the line somewhere short of birth (most people I speak to think late-term abortions should be disallowed except for medical necessity). The anti-abortion crowd draws the line much earlier, some times as early as conception.

However, both these positions have some fundamental problems. For the anti-abortion crowd, how do they stop the mother denying herself nutrition to starve the fetus and cause spontaneous miscarriage regardless of the availability of abortion? We could lock up pregnant mothers for 9 months and ensure that they take sufficient nutrition to safeguard the baby’s development. That doesn’t seem like such a great idea. We could criminalize the denial of nutrition to a baby but how would we enforce it?

The problem with the pro-abortion rights crowd is that determining what it means to be human is not clear cut and seems completely subjective. Sure, everyone has their opinions about it, but opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one. Objectively, it doesn’t seem like there would be a single, time-based criteria (i.e. 12 weeks or whatever) that could be applied to determine personhood. It’s the same problem as determining when someone is an “adult.” Most political states make some sort of of estimate of when a person becomes an adult, but obviously it’s a best guess and not tailored to individual cases. The same is true of determining when a clump of cells can truly be called a person. Is it at X weeks? When the fetus is viable outside the womb? When it can experience pain? I don’t know and anyone who claims they do is either lying or stupid. Making the jump from opinion to fact, and a fact that determines life or death, is a pretty bold and arrogant leap.

Abortion is obviously an emotional issue.  That does not, however, mean people have a license to hold stupid beliefs without having them challenged. Challenge your own beliefs, are you consistent?

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