Twelve years ago I was enrolled in an ethics course in junior college when the professor announced that we would be getting into groups to debate controversial subjects for our next project. The controversial subject assigned to my classmate and I was abortion, and when asked which side we wished to argue for I chose to argue for the pro-life position, without hesitation. This confused my classmate, because she knew I was a non-Christian pro-choice advocate like herself. When she asked why I chose to argue for the pro-life position, my response was simple: I told her that I really wanted to win the debate, and that on the subject of abortion pro-life is the more ethically justifiable position to hold. That is, we were sure to win the debate if we chose to argue pro-life. So my classmate followed my lead and we began researching. Later came the day of the debate and we smoked the pro-choice group. Not to boast too much, but it was a massacre.
Now you’re probably confused. If I believed and could demonstrate pro-life was the more defensible position, why was I personally a pro-choice advocate? At the time I suppose the answer to that question is the same answer to other questions like; why do people continue to smoke cigarettes or eat fried greasy foods when both have been proven to be detrimental to your health? Or why do people buy unneeded merchandise on credit cards which will just end up costing them more money in interest in the long-run? The answer to these questions, I believe, is the same reason I was pro-choice. Though I logically knew something to be the right, or the better thing to do, I suspended that judgment in preference for what I wanted or desired to do. I don’t want to eat a healthy salad or green smoothie because I want to eat fried onion rings. I don’t want to save up money and delay the purchase of merchandise that I want right now. For me, if I had gotten a woman pregnant in junior college, I would have rather had her get an abortion so that I could continue my life as I had planned. Like many other people in 21st century America, I chose not to acknowledge the obvious consequences of my actions so that I could live life as I pleased. After all, it is easy to be pro-life when you don’t have an unplanned pregnancy.
So what changed? Well, years later I became a Christian and with that came the ideology that morality and responsibility trumps our desires. This changed my diet, my financial behavior, and my worldview on subjects like abortion. The rationale behind what I knew to be true never changed. What changed was its application in how I lived out my life. Now you might say that, now as a Christian, I fall right into the pocket of your typical pro-life stereotype. But I generally don’t like to be labeled “pro-life” due to the many negative stereotypes the pro-life camp elicits, as well as the fact that I don’t always necessarily agree with pro-life arguments.
The problems I often have with the pro-life community is in its self-serving principals and lack of application (or poor application) that often does more harm than good. In the public forum I generally see self-serving arguments instead of a genuine effort to persuade pro-choice advocates. Arguments from pro-life advocates tend to be gift wrapped in religious language, with talks of God, the Bible and sin. Now I’m not saying that this is bad or has no place in the debate, since I now share these beliefs myself. But if one hopes to end abortion then we need to be effective in persuading pro-choice advocates, and many current pro-life techniques are not effective. Certainly, using language that the pro-choice camp cannot relate to is not effective.
I once was not a Christian, and if anyone tried to persuade me to their cause with talks of their faith, their arguments fell on deaf ears. I didn’t believe what they believed, which made their arguments null and void. This is very important because Gallop polls show that the vast majority of pro-choice supporters do not believe in religion or are not serious about their religion (Saad). Likewise, if the main advocates of pro-choice do not believe in the Bible, religion or God, then any arguments that use any of these factors as their foundation will not be received. Instead of convincing pro-choice advocates you merely push them farther away, entrenching them in their own cause. How can you carry on a conversation, or teach someone a particular skill if they speak French and you speak Mandarin? Surely there will be very little to no progress. Yet this is what happens when Pro-Life Christians use language that only other Christians understand and care for. If bridges need to be built and barriers crossed, a more neutral language needs to be adopted.
This leads to another problem that both the pro-choice and pro-life camps easily fall into. Abortion is an emotionally charged topic for obvious reasons. We’re dealing with civil rights, human rights, reproductive freedom, family planning, and other areas that effect people on a very personal level when laws are passed that do not align with one’s ideology. Think of a pro-choice woman unable to receive the abortion she feels entitled to have, or the pro-life healthcare provider forced to perform a procedure they believe is unethical. It is no surprise then that people, whether on the pro-life or pro-choice side, often lash out passionately against their opponents. In the media, pro-choice advocates tend to appeal to insults of intelligence or accusations of sexist oppression towards their opponents. Whereas pro-life advocates tend to appeal to accusations of murder, promiscuity and an overall moral emptiness towards their opponents. Thus leaving both sides feeling personally attacked and further polarized from their opponents.
So here I have provided a more “secular” and less emotionally charged case against abortion that relies on science and philosophy in light of past and current statistical data and how that should impact our laws. A Christian reader might dislike my removal of religion out of the debate, especially if we consider it to be the ultimate the authority. This might even be seen as an unworthy compromise. But again, if the goal is effectiveness in persuading the other side with the ultimate goal of ending abortion, then arguments cannot rely on principals pro-choice advocates do not believe to be true. Whereas God and the Bible can be easily dismissed by people that do not place value in God and the Bible, rational thinking and secular ethical principles based off accurate statistics cannot be so easily dismissed by people who value such things. Instead of getting caught up in the dichotomy of being pro-life or pro-choice, here I will share a series of arguments that is palatable to both people in both camps, as well as those who have not yet decided.
WHEN DO YOU BECOME A HUMAN PERSON?
According to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the United Nations, “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible,” and, “All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education, or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others,” (Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the United Nations).
Human rights are thus prescribed to all humans on the simple basis of being human. This is confirmed by Daniel Wikler, associate professor of Medical Ethics and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin Madison , who writes, “So called ‘human-rights,’ for example, are rights ascribed to humans on no other basis than membership in our species,” (Wikler, 19). So if membership of the Homo sapiens species is the only prerequisite for inherent human rights, then it becomes appropriate to ask the question, when do we become human beings? Because if we can formulate an answer to the question then we can determine when human rights are applicable, and therefore when said rights are violated.
Naturally, the answer to this question will have serious implications. Elizabeth Price Foley, Professor of Law at Florida International University College of Law, writes of the ramifications in that it, “…would have heavy implications for divisive issues such as abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilization, and stem cell research. If the law defined life to begin at conception, for example, the legality of all these activities would be brought into serious question,” (Foley, 8). J. Budziszewski, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, writes, “If abortion kills a baby then it ought to be banned to everyone; why allow it? But if it does not kill a baby it is hard to see why we should be uneasy about it; why restrict it?” (Budziszewski, 24). Clearly, this debate hinges on a definition of what exactly is in the womb. When is it alive? When does it become human? Few questions could have more serious implications than the ones we see here.
Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, writes, “If abortion is wrong, surely it is wrong because it is the unjust taking of the life of a developing human being… And if one believes that, then what could possibly justify a regime of law that licenses so grave an injustice?… If abortion is not a form of homicide, if the developing embryo or fetus has the moral status of an unwanted growth- such as a tumor- there would be no grounds on which to ‘personally oppose’ abortion. So the question is this: Is the developing embryo or fetus a human being or a mere unwanted growth?” (George, 205).
There are obviously serious consequences at stake, but these consequences themselves should have no bearing on the answer to the question. Is the embryo a human being, or is it just another blob of cells like any other in a woman’s body? The answer should stand as a truth reached by forms of knowledge that exist on their own in a vacuum devoid of influences from potential consequences, because the truth is true regardless of the impacts it would have on society and the environment. However, in the case of when human life begins or when does someone become a human or “person”, the consequences of the answers have such profound effects on law, healthcare, and money that both sides of the coin (whether pro-life or pro-choice) often let their positions dictate how the question is answered. But if truth is truth, regardless of the position we take, then there should be a way to answer the question on a rational objective basis. I believe this can be done by simply looking through a microscope.
It all starts with the woman’s egg, referred to as an oocyte. When the sperm enters the oocyte, the ovum’s nuclear membrane dissipates allowing the two sets of chromosomes, one set from the sperm and the other from the oocyte, approach one another for contact. Fertilization completes when these two genetic packages meet and merge creating a new individual identity. This fertilized ovum is now the powerful single cell we call the zygote (see figure 1).
The zygote’s genetic identity is truly unique, completely different from its mother and father. The genetic information it contains has all the required blueprints for constructing a human being from start to finish. About a day later the zygote begins a period of rapid division through mitosis called “cleavage,” (Lewis, 50). George writes, “The embryo is from the start distinct from any cell of the mother or of the father… The embryo is human: it has the genetic makeup characteristic of human beings… The embryo is a complete or whole organism, though immature. The human embryo, from conception onward, is fully programmed and has the active disposition to use that information to develop himself or herself to the mature stage of human being, and, unless prevented by disease or violence, will actually do so.” (George & Tollefsen, 50). Unless impeded, the zygote (embryo) is on a one-way ticket to making every cell you will ever needs as a human.
At this point, it is important to clarify some terms often used in this debate since the pro-choice and pro-life camps tend to throw around medical jargon a little too loosely. The prenatal human is considered an embryo for the first 8 weeks after fertilization, after 8 weeks it is called a fetus, (Lewis, 50). A common term used to describe the embryo/fetus/child during gestation is prenatal human, which I will use for the rest of this article to prevent confusion. However, one of the more confusing terms used during discussions on abortion is the term conception. Conception and fertilization are often used interchangeably by some sources while others claim they are different. When the zygote cells begin to separate they eventually form a blastocyst which contains the embryo’s cells and a circular cell wall called the trophoblastic. Conception is the implantation of the blastocyst onto the uterine wall, (Willke, 43). This implantation occurs within 6 to 12 days after fertilization. So depending on context, some refer to conception as fertilization, whereas others refer to conception as the implantation of the blastocyst 6 to 12 days after fertilization (see figure 2).
With the terms clarified, it is possible to make rational arguments about what exactly the zygote is. Is it a human being? Or is it just a bunch of cells that will one day make a human? Wikler proposes that there are three prerequisites for being considered a living human being (or as having “personhood”): You must be “alive.” You must be human, in that you are of the species Homo sapiens. And you must have individual identity (Wikler, 14). The zygote must have all three of these attributes in order to be considered a human being with “personhood.”
The first prerequisite is that of being alive. Life is biologically defined as having criteria such as genetic structure, metabolism, regeneration, homeostasis and adaption, (Foley, 10). Since zygotes have all these characteristics at the time of conception they are considered “alive.” The second prerequisite is that of being human or member of the Homo sapiens species. Since the zygote has all the genetic material of a human, and all the information necessary to create every cell that he or she will ever need for the rest of its life, with no possibility of becoming anything other than a human, it is beyond any doubt that the zygote is human.
Yet, these first two prerequisites, though important, leave the zygote hardly distinguishable from any other cell in a woman’s body. What separates the zygote from a skin cell or brain cell? Those cells are living and distinctly human too! The difference, however, is found in the third prerequisite of individuality. The difference between the zygote and every other cell in the woman’s body is that every other cell has the woman’s genetic identity. The zygote on the other hand, has a genetic identity unique to itself (Grobstein, 10). This unparalleled uniqueness makes every zygote a distinctly different individual. Wikler writes, “The biological concept of personhood is that of an entity which is not only alive and of the species Homo sapiens, but is an individual in its own right. It is not merely part of any other individual, nor is it simply material from which an individual will sometime arise,” (Wikler, 14). This distinction makes the pre-natal human distinct from any other element of the woman’s body. It cannot be classified as some biological spare organ or a cluster of cells, it is indeed a unique human being.
It is therefore safe to say, that because the zygote is alive, distinctly human, and distinctly an individual, the zygote is accordingly a human being. Keith Leon Moore, Professor of Anatomy for the Faculty of Surgery and Associate Dean for the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto writes, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (Moore, 16). So if the zygote is a new human being, then it follows that fertilization/conception is the point at which this new human being comes to exist for the first time, since that was the moment its unique characterizing DNA was first established.
This conclusion is echoed by many. Dr. H. Gordon Deen Jr., Professor of Neurosurgery at the Mayo Clinic declares, “It is an established fact that human life begins at conception,” (Willke, 41). Dr. Michelle M. Matthews-Ross, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard medical School is quoted saying, “It is scientifically correct to say that human life begins at conception,” (Willke, 41). Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, professor of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania stated, “I have learned from my earliest medical education that life begins at the time of conception…” (Alcorn, 26). And don’t be mislead into thinking this conclusion is only reached by pro-life advocates, as even the owner of Oregon’s largest abortion clinic testified under oath, “Of course human life begins at conception,” (Alcorn, 27).
So now let us back track for a moment. According to the UN, human rights are inherited to all individual human beings for merely being a human being (member of the homo sapiens species). These human rights would then apply to the zygote since it is a living individual human. Now, if murder is defined as the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another, and if basic human rights prohibit murder, then these rights also apply to the zygote, which if purposefully terminated, would thereby be considered the murder of a human being. Medical practitioner Dr. Tommy Mitchell sums it up simply, “If the zygote is human life, then abortion is murder,” (Mitchell, 323).
As mentioned earlier, the answer to this question has serious implications. So if the termination of a zygote is murder then these implications are profound. In fact, it was the first acknowledgment of the cellular fertilization that led to the radical change of abortion laws in the past. This acknowledgement of life’s beginning at fertilization led to the American Medical Association in 1859 testifying to state legislators that abortion, which was once allowed up until the fetus’ heartbeat was heard, needed to be instead stopped once fertilization occurred (Willke, 13). In the country today, Foley points out that if life was ever shown to begin at conception and was made into law it would, “anger a significant portion of the population that supports contraception, abortion, or stem cell research, or believes life begins at some later point in time,” (Foley, 9). The legal consequences alone would push for radical changes in our country. Senator Bob Packwood (R-Oregon) once said, “The overwhelming majority of American people do not think abortion is murder. The American public disapproves of murder. They would not be likely to support abortion if they thought it was murder,” (Ryan, 89).
Thus, because of the profound ramifications such a conclusion has on women’s rights, health care, and medical research, this conclusion is highly contested. This contestation comes in many forms. Some outright deny the conclusion, but most believe that the conclusion is not appropriate for determining when human life begins, and thus philosophical alternatives are proposed instead.
Denial of the Biological Answer
The first response to the conclusion of human life beginning at fertilization is that of denial. It goes something like this: It is ridiculous to propose that a tiny zygote cell is equal to that of a full grown human being. The problem with this objection is that it is more superficial than scientific, arguing from size and appearances. It should be obvious that the three prerequisites proposed by Wikler are far more rational ways to classify a zygote then merely superficial appeals to size and appearance which are arbitrary. Though Wikler’s categorization provides a stronger argument, the argument from denial may still be rationally valid. It is thus necessary to refute this argument to show it is rationally invalid (or at least, very weak) and there are many ways to show this.
The first attempt to refute this denial is by pointing out that the human body consists of millions of cells, which as a whole make up our entire being. Therefore, the only real biological difference between the zygote and a full grown human being is cell number. One cell versus millions of cells. It then becomes clear that the argument from denial becomes arbitrary because it relies on the living being considered human only after it reaches a certain number of cells. What number could this possibly be? 200 cells? 41,877cells? Thus, the denier must find an alternative determinant for when we become human.
The second rebuttal is accomplished by pointing out that over the history of a human’s life they undergo many serious changes in their anatomy. For example, if we compare a new born baby to an elderly adult we see a significant series of varying characteristics between the two. Yet, if I were to ask you; which one is more human than the other? You would of course answer that they’re equally human. Well, then the question follows: Why are they equally human? The baby and the old person are equally human because humanness is not a varying or changing characteristic, it is an absolute characteristic. You either are human, or you are not. You are a member of the Homo sapiens species or you are not. There is no scale of measuring degrees of humanness. So if human life begins at conception, then we have a timeline starting with life as a zygote, and ending at death, at whatever point that may be for a particular individual.
Mitchell writes, “… at no time in the process is there a scientific point at which the developing individual clearly ‘becomes a person,’ any more than a baby becomes more human when it walks, talks or is weaned. These milestones in zygote, blastocyst, embryonic, and fetal development are simply descriptions of anatomy, not hurdles met in the test of humanness. From a scientific point of view, the words are arbitrary and purely descriptive,” (Mitchell, 315). Bongioanni agrees, “I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty is not a human being. This is human life at every stage,” (Alcorn, 27).
With these two arguments considered, the failures of arguing that a zygote is not an indicator of human life due to its size and appearance is clearly shown. But it wouldn’t be fair to say that these are the only forms of denial to the claim that human life begins at conception. There are others, but they’re less popular than the argument from size and appearance.
For example, some argue that the zygote is no different from the egg or sperm. The late Janet Hadley, a popular political feminist and journalist, makes this argument, “No one yet has suggested that we attribute moral rights to unfertilized eggs or to sperm, which may also be ‘alive,’” (Hadley, 67). Yes, the egg and sperm of a human are distinctly human and alive. But remember Wikler’s third prerequisite for determining human life: Individuality. Unlike the sperm or egg, which are distinctly that of the father and mother’s identity, the zygote is neither, having its own individual identity. This would explain why no one has argued for attributing moral rights to the sperm or egg as Hadley says.
Another argument that the zygote cannot be considered an individual human life looks to twinning, which can occur up to two weeks after fertilization. How can a zygote be considered a unique individual at fertilization if it can turn into two individuals two weeks later? But this argument misses the point. If twinning occurs, we are merely moving from one distinct human to multiple distinct humans. The zygote prior to twinning is still distinctly different from the parents, just as multiple embryos after twinning are distinctly different from the parents. If you maintain that a human life cannot be constituted until after twinning occurs, then technically we cannot assign human life to Siamese twins since the twinning process never fully completed. So though twinning may present multiple individuals, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the zygote is an individual in itself, and therefore a human person.
Another argument is that the zygote can’t be considered a human life until it becomes a blastocyst and implants on the uterine wall, days after fertilization. The rationale is that this is the point at which pre-natal humans are most successful at developing to term. Prior to implantation there is a high rate of miscarriage among zygotes. But this would be arguing that human life is dependent on odds of survival, which is an arbitrary assertion. If the pre-natal embryo has a lower chance of survival prior to implantation, this in no way would make them any more or less human. There have been times in human history when it would be rare for a child to survive to a particular age. This would not make the children any more or less human prior to that age.
The last, and most unfortunate, argument denying the human life of a zygote is the “fish embryo” misconception. There is a misconception that pre-natal humans re-enact the evolutionary history of humans when they develop. That is, starting as a single cell and evolving upwards, at one point taking the form of a fish! This is known as biogenetic law (AKA recapitulation theory), and is usually supported by pointing out “gills” on the developing pre-natal human (see figure 3). Unfortunately this myth persists today despite its gross inaccuracy.
The problem is, those gills are not gills at all! Fish absorb oxygen through the water using their gills. Not once during development does a human embryo ever absorb oxygen through the water. Human embryos receive oxygen from the umbilical cord. What was once believed to be gills are actually folds in the embryo neck. The folds are caused by the over growing of the embryo brain and spinal column starting on the 28th day. The growth is so rapid that it causes the embryo to curl forward and bend the neck forward causing the tissue on the neck to fold. Just as bending your own neck forward can give you a temporary double chin. So calling these folds “gill slits” is a superficial name which can be misleading since they are neither gills nor slits. They’re often called bronchial arches, but this too is misleading since bronchial comes from the Greek word for “gills.” The proper scientifically sound terminology is pharyngeal arches, pharyngeal clefts or pharyngeal pouches (Wells, “Icons of Evolution” 105).
Biologist Jonathan Wells writes, “[H]uman embryos do not really have gills or gill slits: like all vertebrate embryos at one stage in their development, they possess a series of ‘pharyngeal pouches,’ or tiny ridges in the neck region. In fish embryos these actually go on to form gills, but in other vertebrates they develop into unrelated structures such as the inner ear and parathyroid gland [see figure 4]. The embryos of reptiles, birds and mammals never possess gills,” (Wells, “Haeckel’s Embryos & Evolution” 349).
As for that so-called biogenetic law and recapitulation theory, Sir Gavin Rylands deBeer, evolutionary embryologist and former Director of the British Museum of Natural History wrote, “… the theory of recapitulation has had a great, and while it lasted, regrettable influence on the progress of embryology,” (Debeer, 10). Keith Stewart Thomson, senior fellow of the American Philosophical Society and emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Oxford writes, “Surely the biogenetic law is as dead as a door nail,” (Thomson, 273). And Walter J. Bock, vertebrate zoologist and orinthologist, evolutionary biology professor for Columbia University and a research associate for the American Museum of Natural History, writes, “…the biogenetic law has become so deeply rooted in biological thought that it cannot be weeded out in spite of its having been demonstrated to be wrong by numerous subsequent scholars,” (Bock, 684-685). Clearly, the belief that pre-natal humans develop into fish at some point in development is a gross misinterpretation of superficial folds on an embryo’s anatomy. Unfortunately, this myth persists today among the general public despite its well-known falsity within medical and scientific circles.
It has thus been shown that there are no satisfactory methods by which to deny a zygote as human life on strictly biological grounds. All arguments made to that effect are arbitrary. This has forced many to instead argue from outside the realm of biology to show that human life does not begin at fertilization.
Alternatives to the Biological Answer
Professor of Biological Science and Public Policy at the University of California San Diego, Clifford Grobstein, once concluded, “In final judgment, what we choose to define as a person depends not only upon scientific fact but upon our purposes, our values and our wisdom,” (Grobstein, 11). Many people, particularly those within the pro-choice camp, believe this. They argue that the biological perspective is incorrect or not enough in determining the beginning of human life (or personhood).
However, if this is so, one must provide an alternative answer. These alternative answers come in many different forms. As Grobstein mentioned, they can be motivated by “values” and “wisdom.” Some are philosophical whereas others use different branches of science like psychology. But they all have a few things in common: They contradict each other, they are arbitrary, and they are consistently changing. If definitions are what constitutes a human person are to be made they must be absolute and fixed. Arguments from “values” are ever changing non-fixed arbitrary factors, that as you will see, fail to provide rational alternatives to answering the question of when human life begins.
Self-Dependent scenario: This argument is that the pre-natal human can only be considered a human life with said personhood once it is self-dependent. In other words, until the pre-natal human is out of the womb and can survive on its own it cannot be considered a human life. The issue with this scenario is that the child, once born, is still incredibly dependent on the mother for years to come and could not possibly survive without external aid. The question then naturally follows, does this mean the 18 month old child is not a human life? After all, there is no way an 18 month old could survive on its own. Does that make the child non-viable human life? Even Hadley sees the flaw in this scenario, “A paralyzed elderly person might be completely dependent for others for his or her survival: dependence cannot be the key to ‘personhood’ and moral rights,” (Hadley, 63). So self-dependency cannot be a determinant for human life.
Viable scenario: The viable scenario is like the self-dependent scenario but it is more specific to the earliest a child can be born and survive. The point at which a premature birth would kill a pre-natal human becomes an acceptable time to perform an abortion. But the point at which a premature birth would not kill a pre-natal human becomes the threshold at which human life begins and an abortion may not be completed. The issue with this scenario is that the threshold of viability varies from child to child, and more so, is dependent on technology. As medical technology improves, the point at which a child is viable and can be kept alive artificially continues to get pushed backward earlier into pregnancy. Mitchell writes, “…some 20 years ago the age of viability of a prematurely born fetus was about 28 weeks; today it is around 24 weeks. Thus, in this view, man himself, through his advances in technology, can grant humanness where it did not previously exist,” (Mitchell, 318). So clearly, viability is not a sufficient standard by which human life can be established.
Pain sensation scenario: This argument proposes that the ability to sense pain should be a determinant factor is deciding when abortion can be conducted, and should therefore be a determinant of human life. Such a claim has very obvious flaws, namely that pain sensation is not unique to humans. This scenario assesses morality on a particular action based on the pain it may cause, which is a poor way to measure morality. Hadley sees the flaw in this scenario as well, “We do not eradicate the moral rights of people in a coma or under anesthetic and kill them, solely because they cannot feel pain,” (Hadley, 67). So pain sensation cannot be a determinant for human life.
Brain activity scenario: This argument relies on measurements of brain activity to determine when human life begins. This scenario edges into euthanasia territory where arguments can be made as to whether or not it is morally right to end the life of a brain dead, but alive, individual. I believe that this scenario can be refuted merely on the basis of technology. The ability to measure brain waves and electrical currents in the developing brain of a pre-natal human has improved and continues to improve over time, pushing back the date at when brain activity is registered. Thus the standard relies on ever changing technology falling into the same problem the viability scenario did.
Psychological scenario: This argument proposes that human life should be determined by a variety of psychological concepts like thought, reflection and consciousness. This scenario suffers from many drawbacks ranging from variability from child to child, and more obviously, to difficulty in detection. Ultimately, many of the psychological determinants for humanness and personhood cannot even be ascribed to living infants. As Wikler explains, “…few philosophers and almost no lay writers on abortion have declared themselves in favor of infanticide. Yet, the conclusion of the psychological concepts of personhood (that most fetuses are not persons) may be extended to infants. The pro-choice advocate cannot simultaneously use a psychological concept of personhood to declare fetuses to be nonpersons, yet abandon that same concept when applied to infants… The link between the psychological concept of personhood and the moral approval of infanticide, then, constitutes more of an embarrassment than a refutation of those who rely on the former to argue for the morality of abortion,” (Wikler, 21).
Dr. David A. Sherwood, Professor of Social Work at Baylor University Texas agrees, “Many people today associate personhood with certain capacities of rational self-consciousness, purposive action, and emotional response. However, they may not have thought through the logical implications of this, particularly regarding the status of unborn, infants, the comatose, the severely mentally disabled. It can be very helpful to unpack the implications of this definition. Even if some students are willing to accept the implication, for example, that even infants do not measure up to this definition strictly and may be eligible for selective elimination, at least they have taken intellectual ownership of their beliefs. Many will be prompted to reconsider their beliefs,” (Sherwood, 50). Clearly, the psychological scenario fails as well.
Abortion survivor Rebecca Kiessling shares her personal testimony, “In law school, I’d also have classmates say things to me like, ‘Oh well! If you’d been aborted, you wouldn’t be here today, and you wouldn’t know the difference anyway, so what does it matter?’ Believe it or not, some of the top pro-abortion philosophers use that same kind of argument: ‘The fetus never knows what hits him, so there’s no such fetus to miss his life.’ So I guess as long as you stab someone in the back while he’s sleeping, then it’s okay, because he doesn’t know what hits him?! I’d explain to my classmates how their same logic would justify me killing you today, because you wouldn’t be here tomorrow, and you wouldn’t know the difference anyway, so what does it matter?” (Kiessling).
As has been shown, all alternatives proposed have major short comings and cannot respectively serve as proper determinants for when human life begins. On the other hand, the biological concept, that human life begins at fertilization, is the only answer that is absolute and rationally stronger than all alternatives proposed. Wikler writes, “If biology supports a definition of the individual living Homo sapiens as beginning at conception, then alternative definitions are simply wrong. Analogously, a man who classified fool’s gold as gold would be objectively wrong even if he did so for personal, moral or religious reasons. If, as I believe, many of those who date the onset of personhood at implantation, first heartbeat, viability, or birth are appealing to the biological conception of personhood, they will have to submit their claims to the same biological arbiter to whom the right-to-life forces have appealed; and they may lose,” and “A much stronger argument for dating personhood later than conception begins by abandoning the biological concept all together,” (Wikler, 18-19). And this is exactly what we see with the Pro-Choice camp.
Many Pro-choice advocates have abandoned the biological concept all together in favor of the various other alternatives above that contradict each other and are logically unsound, because they are currently the only scenarios that support their position. Hadley openly denies the biological concept on the principal of its consequences, “The ultimate corollary of fetal personhood is nothing other than forced motherhood,” (Hadley, 69). This is a frightening claim to make, because it is a failure to recognize something as truth strictly because of the ramifications of it being true. As mentioned before, it is not rational to allow the consequences of the truth to influence recognition of the truth.
However, it is not necessarily that some Pro-choice advocates deny the truth of the biological concept, others instead argue that it is morally permissible to terminate human life given the appropriate context. For example, Hadley writes, “Abortion is not murder, even if it takes helpless and innocent life… There are cogent moral arguments justifying war. While laboratory rabbits and rats are helpless and innocent, their lives are taken, albeit controversially, in order to benefit humanity. Animals are killed for meat,” (Hadley, 66). So with this perspective, even if we accept that terminating the pre-natal human is terminating a human life, it can be justified given particular circumstances just as killing other human beings is justified in war, or killing animals being justified for food.
So then what is the justifying factor? It is usually where more emphasis is placed on the woman than the pre-natal human. In other words, the pre-natal human may me a human life, but this is not of any concern because that life is insignificant in respect to the woman’s life. Jane Hodgson, an OBGyn and the only physician in US history to be convicted of performing an abortion in a hospital, once said, “I am personally not concerned as to whether life begins with the two-cell, four-cell, or eight-cell division, but I am concerned with the quality of life that will result from the division. We should be more concerned with the welfare of living teenagers and women than the future of a few embryonical cells,” (Joff, 12). Hodgson’s view seems to be that the question of when life begins is irrelevant because the only thing we can certainly know is the life of the woman. Therefore the woman’s life is the greatest concern regarding the issue.
These two views represent the only real challenge to the biological concept because they push the argument into a different forum of discussion. We’re no longer on the playing field of biology, but the civil rights of women playing field. Hadley argues that the taking of human life is justifiable at times. Hodgson argues that the pre-natal human’s life is irrelevant in comparison to the woman’s. Both arguments are motivated by concerns for the woman’s life. That is, freedom and quality of life. After all, if Hadley and Hodgson are correct, then it really doesn’t matter if we accept the biological concept or not.
A WOMAN’S RIGHT
A woman’s right is a significant staple of the pro-choice position. Whereas the pro-life position is consistently arguing for the acceptance that human life begins at fertilization, the pro-choice position focuses on the rights of women, which can then negate any decision on when human life begins. The arguments for a women’s right to abort can come in a variety of forms but they mostly focus on the women’s right to control her own reproduction, or in other words, control her own body. Thus, if abortion is outlawed, or heavily restricted, we are infringing on the most personal and important rights a woman has. But this right comes into conflict with the pre-natal human’s right to life. So, in order to determine if the pro-choice position overrides the strength of the biological concept we must first analyze its claim that women’s rights are in jeopardy.
It’s A Part of My Body
A classical defense for abortion has been the argument that the pre-natal human is part of the woman’s body and therefore, the woman, having rights over her own body, should have the only say in the life of the pre-natal human. If she decides to terminate the pre-natal human then it is justified because it is a part of her body, to which she alone has a right to control. To suggest she cannot terminate the pre-natal life inside of her you are arguing that she has no right to control her own body, a violation of her civil rights and human rights. But as strong as this argument may sound, it is actually weak is thoroughly analyzed, and can be refuted in two ways; science and allegory.
The scientific concept is one that we already touched upon briefly, that the pre-natal human is unique and different from the mother and father. The pre-natal human has distinct DNA separate from the woman, meaning that it cannot be a part of the woman’s body. To prove this, all one must do is understand how our immune system works. One of the ways our immune system keeps us healthy and fights off sickness is by attacking anything foreign inside the body, like a virus or bacterium cell. So if a pre-natal human has its own identity separate from the woman it should be perceived as foreign by the woman’s immune system, and therefore, attacked. And this is exactly what happens! Well, at least, what would happen…
According to the Reproductive Immunization Association, “…when a woman becomes pregnant, the fetus, like a transplanted organ, can be identified as foreign, since only half of the developing life is identical to the mother’s biology. That, of course, would cause big trouble, were defenses not available to prevent the fetus from being destroyed. Happily, in a normal pregnancy, the immune system is prevented from attacking the developing fetus as if it were an unwanted foreign object via B-lymphocytes and antibodies they produce. In addition these antibodies participate in the growth and development of the placenta… Syncoblasts are made up of giant cells which regulate the flow of nutrients between mother and fetus. They also act as a vital barrier between the maternal immune system and the fetal immune system, both of which would otherwise react to the other as foreign to self, especially since much of the early fetal HLA response is inherited from the father! Clearly, trouble could brew in such an atmosphere, were not the immune systems of both mother and fetus kept from reacting to each other.” (Chong, Matzner, Ching & Smith).
Sir Albert William Liley, a New Zealand medical practitioner and pioneer of fetal medical techniques agrees, “He (pre-natal human) also solves, single-handed, the homograft problem, the dazzeling feat by which the fetus and mother, although immunological foreigners who could not exchange skin grafts nor safely receive blood from each other, nevertheless tolerate each other in parabiosis for nine months,” (Willke, 52). As can be seen, the argument that the pre-natal human is part of the women’s body fails on a biological level, because if the pre-natal human were truly a part of the woman’s body, the placenta wouldn’t be needed to prevent the mother and child’s immune systems from attacking eachother.
The allegorical argument, on the other hand, can be summarized using rape instead of abortion. Let us say a man approaches a woman and decides to rape her. Is this man justified in his decision to rape her? You, I hope, would answer no. But is there any situation in which this man is justified in raping the woman? Surely you would agree that there isn’t any situation that would justify the rape of a woman. But doesn’t this man have a right to his own body, and therefore the right to do whatever he decides with his own body, even if that means raping a woman? Again, you would say no I’m sure. But if we dare say he does not have this right to rape the woman, aren’t we saying he does not have a right to his own body? No. Certainly he does not have a right to do as he pleases with his own body and rape a woman. Now here is the critical question that follows: Why? Why does the man not have the right to rape the woman, if he has a right to his own body?
The answer is simple. The woman is not part of the man’s body, but a separate identity. For the man to forcibly rape the woman, he would be using his body to harm another life. We can all agree the man has a right to his own body. But once he decides to harm another individual with that right he crosses the line and his rights must be suspended. Ergo, there are situations in which the rights to our own body are suspended when the safety and health of another is jeopardized. Hence, the man is never justified in raping a woman.
To make the connection to abortion, if the man is not justified in raping a woman because it harms another human being, then likewise, a woman aborting the pre-natal human inside her does not have the right to do so. Even though she has a right to her own body, these rights are suspended when the life of another innocent person is violated. There is more to this dilemma of conflicting rights that will be discussed later, but the point is, claiming the right to your own body as a means to justify abortion is a weak argument.
There are also inherent contradictions that point to flaws in the claim that the pre-natal human is part of the woman’s body. For example, if that claim were true, that would mean that until birth, the mother has two finger prints, two brains, two hearts, etc. She might have two blood types, or even have male genitalia if the child within her is a male. In some rare cases, the mother dies but the child is surgically removed and survives. How could this be if the child was part of the mother’s body? Louise Brown was the first test tube baby, conceived when sperm and an egg met in a petri dish. She wasn’t part of the mother’s body then? When she was placed inside her mother, did she then become considered part of the woman’s body? Thus, if one analyzes this claim rationally, it becomes apparent that it is irrational to argue that the pre-natal human is part of a woman’s body.
James Bowers, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, points out another problem with the argument that a woman has the right to her own body. “If a woman had the complete bodily autonomy attributed to her by conventional pro-choice thinking, she would be able to alienate her self-preservation, the most fundamental of the inalienable rights… She would have the license to kill herself or enslave herself,” (Bowers, 86).
In conclusion, the claim that the pre-natal human is part of a woman’s body suffers from numerous flaws. Rest assured there are no rational grounds to argue that the pre-natal human is a part of the woman’s body. The pre-natal human is, on a variety of levels, a unique and individual entity. In addition complete bodily autonomy carries with it many contradictions. With this being the case, the pro-choice position must find other grounds to argue for the justification that abortion is morally acceptable.
Two Conflicting Rights
As we’ve discussed, the pre-natal human is subject to basic human rights for mere membership of the Homo sapiens species. If the pre-natal human has human rights then a conflict of rights immediately ensues between mother and child. The child has the right to life and to be born. But when it comes to a woman’s particular rights that are in conflict with the child’s right, it is not a similar right “to life” (excluding very rare situations where complications only allow for one or the other live). Instead, the woman’s rights in conflict are rights to “control one’s own body.” Since we’ve determined that the pre-natal human is not part of a woman’s body, the woman’s choice must instead be considered a right to control her pregnancy.
Hadley writes, “…inside a single human skin there is room for only one being with full and equal rights,” (Hadley, 68). Let us ignore for the moment that at a particular point the pre-natal human has its own skin, and instead focus on Hadley’s argument that there is only room for one being with full and equal rights. Hadley is saying that at this juncture, one of the being’s rights must be suspended, whether that is the rights of the mother, or the rights of the pre-natal human. But only one can win out, since equal protection for both is contradictory in the question of abortion.
As discussed with the rape analogy, it would appear that the pre-natal human has the greater moral claim since its rights to life are being infringed upon by abortion. As the UN declares, “At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others.” (Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the United Nations). Since the woman’s act of abortion infringes on the rights of the pre-natal human it should be suspended, right? Unfortunately this is not a sound argument because it can be reversed to say that the pre-natal human’s rights should be suspended since they infringe on the woman’s rights to control her pregnancy.
In order to solve this dilemma, a value judgment needs to be made: Whose rights are more important or have a higher moral value? Like Hodgson, Hadley places more value in the woman then the pre-natal human writing, “…how can a potential person, a fetus, have greater moral claim than an actual person, the pregnant woman?” (Hadley, 68). This statement though relies on the presupposition that a pre-natal human has no personhood and therefore does not have human rights. But if we accept the biological definition argued earlier, that zygote’s are “persons,” then Hadley’s position is untenable..
Many argue that the right to have an abortion is a fundamental exercise of liberty as expressed in the 14th amendment (Ryan, 84). But if a prenatal human is a human with human rights then abortion is an action of destroying a human. In this context, is an abortion still an exercising of liberty? Surely we wouldn’t allow the murder of an innocent man or woman as the murderer’s right to exercise the 14th amendment would we? Obviously, not all actions partaken in under the guise of “liberty” are justifiable. There are most certainly times when liberties must be restricted for the liberties of others.
Thus, the only way to solve the dilemma is not by comparing the woman to the pre-natal human, but instead by comparing the differences in the rights themselves. Ruth Macklin, Associate Professor of Bioethics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine New York, writes, “Even in the absence of a fully worked out hierarchy of moral rights, it is evident that if any right stands at or near the top of the list, it is the right to life. Hence, the difficulty of balancing the rights of the fetus against the rights of the pregnant women: the right to life would seem to override virtually all others, so how can the destruction of a fetus be morally permissible when the right served by that act falls lower on a hierarchy of human rights?” (Macklin, 226). Macklin makes a great point. If we compare the rights themselves we see that the right to life is obviously of higher value than the right to control reproduction.
Bowers agrees, “At the point at which the fetal-being achieves personhood, nature’s law against individuals exercising their liberty in ways harmful to other persons makes the fetal-being’s liberty in preservation superior to a woman’s liberty interest in the abortion decision, except under those circumstances in which an abortion is imperative to securing the health and preservation of the woman,” (Bowers, 86-87).
Some believe, however, the child’s rights may have high value, but that doesn’t mean we suspend the mother’s rights. As Hadley writes, “I do not discount the question of the fetus’s moral value as a potential person. But for me, attributing a potential moral status to the fetus does not instantly close down the argument about the position of a woman seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy,” (Hadley, 61). Yet, there is an argument that can resolve this conflict: compensation. In the event of a desired abortion you cannot satisfy the rights of both the mother and the child. Either the mother or child will have their rights denied. So one way of deciding as to whose rights should be denied can be determined by compensation. If a mother is denied her rights, she can be compensated. But if a pre-natal human is denied his/her rights, they cannot be compensated because their life has been terminated. It then follows that if one believes the child’s rights and mother’s rights are equally valid, then they still must accept that the fairest solution is to satisfy the rights of the child and deny the rights of the mother because the mother, unlike the child, can be compensated (Macklin, 227).
Bowers concludes, “…individuals are not to use their liberty in ways harmful to themselves or others. This second limit has an impact on a woman’s liberty interest in the abortion decision by drawing attention to the effect the exercise of this liberty has on the developing life of fetal-being. It underscores the fact that a woman’s exercise of her liberty interest in the abortion decision and fetal-being’s developing life cannot be severed and are in conflict. Simply put, the inseparability and conflict between abortion and the fetal-being’s life come down to the realization that for a woman to exercise her liberty interest in abortion, she has no choice but to destroy the developing fetal-being and its potential for meaningful human life,” (Bowers, 86).
In conclusion, the only solution between the dilemma of a woman’s right and a pre-natal human’s rights is to honor the rights of the pre-natal human and suspend the rights of the woman for reasons of compensation and reasons of right valuation. That is, the right to life is of more value than the right to control pregnancy.
The Evolution of Feminism
When discussing the rights of women in the abortion debate it is necessary to present the feminist point of view. We tend to generalize feminists into a particular stereotype that we assume is always pro-choice. But feminism is not a cohesive movement. It is a movement that has evolved over time and varies greatly from woman to woman (Rudy, 58). One particular feminist group, the Feminists For Life (FFL), is proudly pro-life. The FFL believes, “Pro-life feminists recognize abortion as a symptom of, not a solution to, the continuing struggles women face in the workplace, on campus, at home, and in the world at large,” (FFL). The FFL essentially carries on the argument proposed by America’s founding feminists, that abortion is a symptom of society’s problems. This may come as a surprise to some readers, because feminists today seem so overwhelmingly pro-choice, that it is surprising to hear that in the past it was the exact opposite!
Pro-choice advocates argue that the original founders of the woman’s suffrage movement never spoke out against “abortion” which would indicate they supported it then, as they would today. In regards to founding woman’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Feldt, the former head of Planned Parenthood, wrote, “There is nothing in anything she ever said or did, that would indicate she was anti-abortion,” (Clark, 1). Yet, in a speech delivered in 1875 by Susan B. Anthony, she referred to abortion as one of many evils perpetrated by men onto women when she said, “The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shootings, of abortions and infanticide, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully of this monster evil of society,” (Clark, 2). She is also quoted as saying, “…sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them,” (Clark, 3). Anthony would often sign off on literature from other feminists speaking out against abortion published in her own newspaper, The Revolution. And she also refused to display ads for pseudo-abortion drugs in the newspaper (Clark, 3). With all this considered, it is hard to say Susan B. Anthony would be pro-choice.
Pro-life feminists argue further that the founding women of women’s suffrage did speak out against abortion, but didn’t necessarily call it abortion. They instead referred to abortions as, “restellism,” “ante-natal murder,” “child murder,” “ante-child infanticide,” and “infanticide,” (Clark, 2). Thus many articles written by early feminists that are anti-abortion tend not to seem that way if you’re looking for the keyword “abortion.”
Many other articles, however, are straight forward. Sara Norton, who fought for the right of women to be admitted to Cornell University once wrote that she looked forward to the day when, “the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or inferred with,” (Clark, 2). Alice Paul drafted the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), but referred to abortion as, “the ultimate exploitation of women,” (Alcorn, 58). Historical feminist Eleanor Kirk was anti-abortion (Ciampa, 9). 19th century feminist Mattie Brinkerhoff once wrote, “When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society — so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged,” (Ciampa, 10). In an article called “Marriage & Maternity,” written in The Revolution, participants in abortion were said to be, “Guilty? Yes, no matter the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits this deed. It will burden her conscious in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! Thrice guilty is he who for selfish gratification… drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime,” (Clark, 3). Even the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was opposed to abortion, “…while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.” (Sanger, 4)
So if historical feminists were anti-abortion, then what changed? Well, in the 1960s the feminist movement turned towards the sexual revolution, in which sex was thought to be a form of liberation for women. However, in the event of pregnancy, a woman was not legally allowed to have an abortion. So this same sexual liberation that freed her, now imprisoned her to carry a baby to term. Thus, the only way for a woman to be sexual liberated would require abortion to be legal, safe and accessible. Ergo, the feminist movement became heavily involved in fighting to legalize abortion.
Kathy Rudy, assistant professor of ethics and women’s studies at Duke University, summarizes, “These early feminists (1960s) largely favored sexual revolution and participated in abortion politics precisely because they thought sex was good and they wanted to have more of it more safely, that is, without fear of pregnancy. Full access to abortion would liberate women sexually and, some thought, would disrupt the stronghold of male supremacy. By the mid 1970s, however… having sex with more men more often only forced women to go to clinics more frequently,” (Rudy, 69).
Over the years, the toll of abortion being used as a catalyst for the liberation of women has greatly divided feminists with some arguing that the union of abortion with feminism is “terrorist feminism,” in that you have to be willing to “kill for the cause you believe in,” (Alcorn, 58) while others, like Hadley, arguing that abortion is liberating, “Conveying the idea that to have an abortion is heartless and unwomanly is part of a wider strategy to push women back into traditional roles or simply keep them there,” (Hadley, 61). The messages are loud and clear. Pro-life feminists are arguing that abortion is a symptom of bigger problems in society that are not being addressed, that women are subsequently being victimized by. While pro-choice feminists argue that legal abortion is the only way to keep women’s rights secure. Needless to say, this divide remains heavily contended to this day.
In my opinion, the biggest concern a pro-choice feminist faces today is the inherent contradiction in fighting for the rights of females worldwide, yet completely ignoring what the product of about half of all pregnancies are: female children. Any true feminist would be against any system that kills massive amounts of females, and yet this is essentially what abortion does. Pro-choice feminists may counter argue that the pre-natal human is not human, does not have rights that supersede the woman’s, etc. But these arguments have already been refuted. The pre-natal human, is a human being subject to human rights which are not superseded by a woman’s right to control her fertilization. So we’re left with a pro-choice feminism standing in support of a cause that kills thousands of females each year.
Pro-choice feminists should also not overlook that in their struggle to keep abortion legal to liberate a woman’s right to choose they are playing directly into the hand of male dominated cultures. Case in point: In countries were male children are desired, abortion is the method for terminating females. This has led to gender disproportionate regions in countries like India and China where population numbers are the highest. The birth rate among immigrants in Canada and England show a dispassionate amount of boys and girls which authorities are blaming on selective abortions (Mason).
How is abortion helping the feminist cause in these countries if it supports the very method that keeps females from being born? Even the UN is opposed to these practices stating, “Non-discrimination is a cross-cutting principle in international human rights law. The principle is present in all the major human rights treaties and provides the central theme of some of international human rights conventions such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.” (Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the United Nations). If feminists are trying to end all forms of discrimination against women, they need to start with the most basic and primary female right being violated, the right to live. If feminists choose not to act upon this form of massive discrimination they commit grave hypocrisy, protecting one female’s right to choose, but rejecting another female’s right to live. Fighting for all females except the females inside the womb.
I’ll close with one last ironic point. That abortion has, in contemporary times, been turned into a “women’s rights” cause, yet polls show that most pro-life supporters are female, and most pro-choice supporters are single males (Alcorn, 59). According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 81% of men in America believed abortion should be legal, whereas only 78% of women believed abortion should be legal. (Saad 2010). One can’t help but question just how much abortion supports the feminist cause when the founders of women’s suffrage were against it, when more males support it than women, and when the act itself terminates the lives of countless females every year.
The “Choice” Illusion
The Right to Choose is the primary motivating force behind the likewise named pro-choice position. Even many of those who are opposed to abortion personally believe abortion should be legal based on the woman’s right to choose. Granted, I believe it has already been established that the pre-natal human has human rights that supersede any woman’s right to end that life. The goal in this section is to analyze the position of the proclaimed “choice” empowerment given to women. Are women really given a choice? It is in my opinion that women are fed a pseudo-choice, that the word “choice” is used to provide a false sense of empowerment to the women seeking an abortion and sell the pro-choice position to others.
Abortion is a much easier decision to make when you feel you’ve done it freely. It is empowering. After all, if you had an abortion without this empowerment of choice you’d feel coerced. So it is better to make women think they are partaking in a liberating act as many pro-choice advocates continue to insist. Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL said, “We have to remind people that abortion is the guarantor of a woman’s… right to participate fully in the social and political life society,” (Alcorn, 56). Pre-Roe abortionist David Bennett shares how they dignified the “evil” of abortion, “If we provided services in a dignified way, respecting her as an individual, involving her in the process, then she could feel her own strength. So that’s how we went from thinking of this as the lesser of two evils to a life-enhancing experience,” (Joff, 95). Abortion is a “life-enhancing experience.” The choice becoming her “strength.” The power of choice easily makes abortion seem like a really good thing.
Which takes us to the next point that we should not overlook. Another convenient benefit the word “choice” provides is a general concept of being “good.” Pro-choice advocates often use the slogan, “If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?” But the “choice” mentioned is not a general broad concept of choice, it is a very particular choice to abort. I’d like to think that the vast majority of Americans certainly trust women to make choices, like whether or not to have sex, whether to use contraceptives properly, etc. Pro-life advocates aren’t against a woman’s right to choose in the general sense. It is only one particular choice that is in contention. The choice to abort. If we substitute the word ‘choice” with “kill,” then the slogan becomes problematic: “If you can’t trust me to kill my child, how can you trust me with a child?” Yet no rational woman would argue this. Furthermore, could a mother use this same argument after she has given birth to a child? The slogan only stays valid prior to birth. So it is an argument that can only be used if the word “choice” is left as an abstract concept, not specific to the purposeful termination of a human life.
Here is another problem with “choice”, many women don’t have a real choice at all. Many women are coerced into having an abortion by others. One survey showed that 80% of women that have had an abortion would not have had the abortion if they weren’t coerced by others to have one (Alcorn, 74). In another study of 252 women surveyed that had had an abortion, 53% made the choice because coercion from others, with only 33% feeling free to make the choice (Reardon). In India, 1 out of every 10 abortions is the result of the woman being compelled to have an abortion by her husband and/or family (Russo & Steinberg 160). Many women who have abortions do not celebrate or support abortion necessarily. But because of their circumstances have abortions anyways. 65 to 70% of women seeking abortions hold a negative moral view on abortions and 45% of women that show up to a clinic seeking an abortion hope for a miracle solution to emerge which will allow them to keep the baby (Reardon). Clearly, real choices are absent for many women.
Karen Shablin, an ex-member of the NARAL writes of when she had had an abortion, “I underestimated myself, my family, and my friends, and society’s ability to provide a place for my child. I made my decision in the moment, not thinking about my life 10 or 20 or 25 years later. So I never even considered options other than abortion- I felt like it was my only choice,” (Shablin, 14).
The illusion of the neutral “choice” mindset can often push one towards abortion in many different ways. One popular way is with warnings that pregnancy adds stress, financial hardship and inconvenience to a woman’s life, thus justifying the choice to terminate the pregnancy. And granted, stress, financial hardships, etc. are indeed very real outcomes of pregnancy. But do they qualify as justifiable reasons to abort? After all, one could just as easily extend this argument to a toddler, teenager, husband, or parent. All of which can likewise lead to stress, financial hardship, and inconvenience. Yet, no one would try to use this to argue that a teenager or husband could be terminated on those grounds. So why do we allow it for unborn children? One could go even further to argue that this argument is degrading to women, suggesting that they are unable to handle the stress and pressures of pregnancy without resorting to killing their children. Yet these are common tactics utilized to persuade women to abort their children.
Another way of forcing a woman’s choice is by restricting information. Many women simply lack sexual education. In other instances, women are directly misinformed of the science, risks and laws attached to abortion at the clinics they visit. One survey showed that 90% of women that have had an abortion feel that they did not receive enough information to make an informed choice (Alcorn, 74). Abortion clinic counselors have admitted that they were uninformed of abortion alternatives, and therefore never shared them with pregnant women (Alcorn, 97). Counselors have suggested they felt more pressured to ensure the women followed through with their abortions. Readers can visit http://www.liveaction.org to see many recorded instances of abortion clinics misdirecting women on abortion, the law, and health.
Ann Lowery Forster recalls telling her boyfriend’s parents that she was pregnant, “His mother, a proud feminist, warned me that I would never succeed if I had a baby in college; that we needed to ‘terminate the pregnancy,’ so that her son and I could move into life as ‘unencumbered adults,’ … I thought, ‘Really? Have I not been raised to be and strived to be a strong woman? A capable woman? Does this right to choose for which I have argued so vehemently mean I don’t really have a choice? Can’t succeed? Really? Let’s find out,” (Forster, 18). Ann did succeed, having her child while in college, all the while staying on track to graduate, serving as the president of a mock trial team, and writing an opinion column for the college paper.
Forster’s story also brings up another problem with the illusion of choice: Circumstance. Of 252 women surveyed that had had an abortion, 65% felt forced into their choice by their circumstances (Reardon). For various factors ranging from money, father commitment, family support, etc., circumstances can limit your choices to one: abortion. In which you no longer have any “choice” at all.
However, it should not be misinterpreted that all women seeking abortion are scared and confused teenagers. Though this is something both pro-life and pro-choice advocates focus on during campaigns. Obviously because the notion of a scared teenage girl with her whole life ahead of her is a powerful image. But this is mis-leading. The scared and worried teenage girl is not necessarily a proper reflection of the general type of woman receiving abortions in America. George M. Ryan, Jr. Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Professor of Community Medicine at University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis, Tennessee says, “…the majority of abortions… are not performed on teenagers. Most are instances of deliberate choice by adult women in our nation,” (Ryan, 88). Today, only 18% of women having abortions are teenagers (Guttmacher Institute “Induced Abortion”), 58% of all abortions are from women in their 20’s, and 61% of abortions occur for women that already have at least 1 child (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Still, the forces of coercion and misdirection, whether intentional or unintentional, continue to fuel the abortion machine by winning public opinion with the illusion of choice.
The notion of “choice” for the support of abortion is only successful if the women really do have a choice. If women feel they do not have a choice because of coercion from others or lack of education, then they are not empowered with any choice what so ever. They are instead often subjected to the fallacy of false alternatives: You can either have an abortion and your life will go back to normal, or you can be forced into the horrible life of having a child and becoming a parent. But this isn’t reality. Joyce McCauley-Benner, a rape victim writes, “We, as women, can sell ourselves short sometimes. Some parts of society will tell us we can’t do it, we shouldn’t do it, or force to choose between our dreams as women and our desires as mothers. But I am here to tell you, women deserve better choices than that,” (McCauley-Benner, 11). What is often sold to the outside world as “choice” is really no choice at all for some women, it is only an illusion.
The Slavery Analogy
As odd as it may initially seem, slavery is often brought up in the abortion debate. Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates use it for its metaphoric qualities, but both use it in different contexts. Though criticisms of using such a unique social circumstance from past history are abound, most fail to identify the proper context in which the analogies are being made. Here I will present how the pro-life position and pro-choice position utilize America’s past with slavery to determine which is more successful in the abortion forum.
The pro-choice position, in general, more so criticizes the pro-life position for using this analogy. But in particular, pro-choice feminists use it frequently. As Hadley has been quoted early describing the outlaw of abortion as coercion and additionally that forcing a woman to carry a baby is to treat her as non-human property, “Pregnant women are not merely ingenious containers for growing babies,” (Hadley, 69). This draws on the parallel of slaves forced to do work, treated as non-human property. Feminists often refer to the outlaw of abortion as “forced pregnancy,” which they consider to essentially be a form of slavery, frequently pointing out the 13th amendment to end slavery (Rudy, 68).
Loretta J. Ross, co-founder and the National Coordinator of the Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective believes being anti-choice is like enslaving women, “Somebody owned our flesh, and decided if and when and with whom and how our bodies were to be used. Somebody said that Black women could be raped, held in concubinage [sic], forced to bear children year in and year out, but often not raise them,” (Gandy). One columnist writes, “The slavery analogy makes much more sense as an argument for choice, not against it. Slavery is about losing one’s freedom and personal autonomy over one’s body and life,” (Berkenwald).
However, under scrutiny, the pro-choice argument that the slavery analogy makes more sense for their position suffers from several fallacies. For example, the claim that outlawing abortion forces a woman to be treated as property. But this would be acknowledging that women willingly engage in an activity (sex) that has a high potential to place them in something they consider to be slavery (pregnancy). One may make an argument in the case of rape, that the woman is victimized by this “slavery” of pregnancy. But outside of rape, women willingly and knowingly engage in sexual activity. It would seem that the categorization of this “slavery” really hinges on whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned. It then naturally follows to ask, how can something be considered “slavery” when it only pertains to those that did not plan for it? And for those that did plan for it, it is not “slavery” at all. This would change the category of slavery from an absolute wrong, to an arbitrary personal opinion.
And as said before, the argument that abortion is justified on the grounds that a woman has a right to her own body fails in that a pre-natal human isn’t a part of a woman’s body. Furthermore, it has also been established that freedoms and liberty need to be restrained when they infringe the freedoms and liberty of others, especially when the freedoms in question are of high moral value, like the right to live. With all this considered, the slavery analogy is, at best, a weak analogy for the pro-choice position.
The pro-life position argues from a different context. Instead of comparing women to slaves, it compares the pre-natal human to slaves. The parallel being that the pre-natal humans are denied human rights and treated as mere property of the woman’s body. Other parallels are in context to defenses used by the pro-choice position to justify abortion which are similar to that of the pro-slavery position. For example, pro-choice advocates often argue that abortion is in the best interest for the pre-natal human, just as pro-slavers once argued that slavery was in the best interest for black people. Just as slavers argued that slavery was an exercising of their freedom, pro-choicers ironically argue that abortion is an exercising of their freedom. To argue otherwise would be to “impose your morality onto them,” an argument used by both pro-choicers today and pro-slavers of the past.
In addition, just as those opposed to abortion are labeled “fanatics” by pro-choice advocates, pro-slavery advocates made the same accusations about abolitionists. As Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy once wrote, “Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics,” (Frieburger). It would seem that Pro-slavery advocates were essentially pro-choice. That is, the choice to have slaves.
Yet pro-choice advocates heavily disagree with the pro-life position’s usage of this analogy. Imani Gandy, a senior legal analyst for Reproductive and Sexual Health Justice writes of the fallacy of comparing abortion to slavery, “Slavery, on the other hand, was the centuries-long system under which Black men and women were treated not as human beings, with attendant freedom and liberty, but as chattel—human property owned by other humans, stripped of their freedom and cruelly forced to work under inhumane conditions. During slavery, Black human beings were murdered, raped, and treated like animals simply for the economic benefit of white aristocracy and to further white supremacy.” (Gandy). Granted, the specifics are different, but in context with the pro-life argument, indeed pre-natal humans are “treated not as human beings, with attendant freedom and liberty, but as chattel- human property owned by humans.” It would seem that the analogy can go both ways in Gandy’s words. When the pro-choice camp says: Embryos are not human beings, they are a part of the woman’s body, they are conveying a sense of property ownership. It is easy to see how quickly this parallels slavery.
Gandy continues, “If abortion is like slavery—indeed, if abortion is the most divisive issue since slavery—then what of the women who suffered under slavery? What of the women who performed self-abortions in order to resist slavery?” (Gandy). But yet again, this can be turned the other direction. Gandy’s argument could also be revised to say, “what of the women who suffered under abortion?” Whether that is the mother’s emotional and physical trauma post-abortion or the termination of a pre-natal human that would one day be a woman. As far as women that performed self-abortions to resist slavery, these women are indeed victims of the crime of slavery, in under the harsh circumstances one would certainly understand why they did what they did. But this does not justify their decisions to kill the unborn, just as an enslaved woman killing her children or other family members to resist slavery would not be justified. The FFL believes, abortion is a symptom of something wrong with society, and this is apparent in enslaved women self-aborting because there was something wrong with society: slavery. The pro-choice position instead believes that abortion is a good thing.
Another criticism of Gandy is that the pro-life slavery analogy exploits black women, “These messages are tailored for Black women in an effort to exploit Black history and to shame Black women into signing on to the anti-abortion crusade,” (Gandy). When in reality the message is used to establish a connection between something that is indisputable wrong (slavery), with something that is highly disputed (abortion). If we all agree that slavery was wrong because it dehumanized slaves and ignored their human rights, and we can make the comparison that pre-natal humans have been dehumanized, their human rights ignored, then abortion must be wrong as well. The end result being to clear away the gray of abortion by comparing it to something we understand as black and white today; that slavery was and is wrong.
For me the ultimate correlation between abortion and slavery is the lack of consultation from the victim. The pro-choice position overlooks the choice of the victim’s themselves, pre-natal humans. Black people did not choose slavery. Jews did not choose the Holocaust. Women do not choose rape. And pre-natal humans, would certainly not choose abortion.
Consequences and Contradictions in Law
Often, pro-choice advocates point out the troubling contradictions and consequences in laws and public policy that would occur if we deemed a pre-natal human to have human rights that supersede the rights of the woman. Many of those contradictions and consequences have already been discussed and refuted. Contrarily, here I will share the consequences and contradictions in law that currently exist because abortion is legal.
Current law punishes a woman for endangering the life of her child. But that same woman could have aborted her child before it was born, and would be free from any prosecution. So it is OK to kill a life at one arbitrary point, but not OK to even endanger that same life at a later arbitrary point. In some states a woman can be punished for endangering the child while it is still in her womb, for example drinking alcohol or smoking while pregnant. Yet she can still have an abortion? How does that make any rational sense? This is a contradiction that would actually be rectified if a pre-natal human was recognized as a human being with rights from the point of fertilization. Until that is established, this law is contradictory.
In 2004 congress passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, prosecuting anyone who intentionally kills or attempts to kill the unborn child which is considered a human being, except… and get this… in the event of an abortion. Under the law even the mother can be prosecuted if her actions against the child are considered an “act of violence.” But abortion is not considered an act of violence. You may need to re-read that. And what makes this even more strange is that the NARAL, Planned Parenthood and ACLU strongly opposed the act (despite abortion being excluded from it) because it identified the unborn as a human with rights, (Chamberlain). Surely they fought it for the very contradiction that currently exists. But it forces them in a position that would appear to be pro-violence of the pre-natal human.
Let us propose a hypothetical situation where a woman is on her way to a clinic to receive an abortion. While walking up to the door a maniac runs up to her and violently punches her, killing the pre-natal human inside her. This maniac could be charged for murder. But if he had not attacked the woman, the clinic physician would have carried out an abortion (for a fee) to the same effect and it would not be considered murder.
In England, abortion is legal for non-medical reasons if made prior to 24 weeks, but if the decision to abort is made because of the child’s sex (which can be determined sometime between 16-20 weeks), the abortion is not legal (Mason). Think about this critically. You can legally abort a child, unless your motivations are sexist. Let us expand on that logic with a question: Should it be legal for me to kill another human being at my own discretion, unless my decision to kill is based on sexist reasons? Another odd contradiction indeed.
So as you can see, there are currently very odd contradictions and dilemmas when we don’t consider the pre-natal human a human being, or in some cases, a human being if killed only a particular way, but not all ways. These contradictions would be more logically rectified if inherent human rights are granted to the pre-natal human.
BACK ALLIES, COAT HANGERS, AND OTHER SCARE TACTICS
Many people are personally opposed to abortion, but maintain that it should remain legal for fear of the back alley. The Back Alley argument (AKA Coat Hanger argument) is a reference to illegal abortions which are generally considered synonymous with dangerous abortions. The argument is that if abortion is outlawed, women will resort to illegal “back alley” abortions which are dangerous and often result in the women’s death. This argument is definitely a main pillar for the pro-choice position and it has been very successful in convincing many ardent pro-life advocates to accept legal abortion. Though this argument does have some merit, its impacts are highly exaggerated.
Exaggerations and Other Misleading Statistics
The first lesson that should be learned from the abortion debate is that statistics are often exaggerated by both pro-choice and pro-life advocates. For the pro-choice position, exaggerated statistics tend to be geared towards reports on illegal abortion and illegal abortion-related death. The goal is simple: If illegal abortion can be made out to be a dangerous thing, it will convince people that it should be legal.
Though today, it is possible for any layperson to research particular statistics for authenticity, back in the 1970s this was not as possible. During the fight to make abortion legal pro-choice advocates were constantly arguing that back alley abortions were killing tens of thousands of women annually. For example, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) admitted, “How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L., we generally emphasize the frame of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible,” (Nathanson, 193). Shocking to know. But even more shocking to realize these exaggerations still exist today.
Around the world, illegal abortion statistics are criticized for being inflated, sometimes as high as 70 to 100 times their actual value (Saunders). The World Health Organization reports that measuring abortion mortality always relies on estimates based on assumptions. This is because of the many difficulties that plague attempts to precisely record such data: National registration systems routinely under-cut such deaths (if known); connecting medical complications to abortion procedures is not always established; if the procedure was done illegally, reporting is highly unlikely; and women tend not to admit they had an abortion procedure (Grimes, Benson, Singh, Romero, Ganatra, Okonofua, and Shah, 2). This makes mortality statistics regarding abortion difficult to achieve accuracy on, and as it has been a problem in the past, it will more than likely continue to be a problem in the future.
Other misleading statistics used by pro-choice aren’t exaggerated, but instead rely on leaving out critical information. For example, in Romania from 1966 to 1989 10,000 women lost their lives to unsafe abortions when communist dictator Ceausescu banned abortion. Maternal mortality launched from 85.9 deaths a year to 545 deaths a year, (Russo & Steinberg, 163-164). In 1992 when abortions were legalized the maternal death rate dropped from 170 per 100,000 live births to just 60 deaths per 100,00 live births in just 3 years (Hadley 40). The statistic would seem to support the notion that legalizing abortion saved many lives.
But what is important to note (and what is generally left out of these statistics) is that it wasn’t just abortion that was outlawed in Romania during this time, it was also contraceptives and sexual education. Meaning that a woman’s ONLY form of reproductive options were abstinence and illegal abortion. Coupled with poor medical standards, it is no surprise that pregnancy, abortion and maternal mortality all skyrocketed. The key statistic being maternal mortality. If more women are getting pregnant, maternal mortality would of course rise regardless of the number of illegal abortions. It also stands to point out that Romania’s prenatal plan was initiated with the purpose of increasing fertilization and grow the population, in contrast with the pro-life agenda in America to respect human rights of pre-natal humans. It is thus false to attribute the maternal mortality rate to purely the illegalization of abortion, and becomes unclear just how much of an impact the legalization of abortion actually had on bringing down the maternal death rate.
A similar situation occurred in South Africa. South Africa made abortion legal in 1996, where deaths from unsafe abortions dropped 91% from 1994 to 2001, (Russo & Steinberg, 164). It would seem the legalization of abortion saved many lives. But as the data suggests, the drop in abortion mortality was already starting to decline in 1994 prior to the legalization of abortion in 1996. Additionally, the Act that made abortion legal (the Choice on Pregnancy Termination Act) implemented strategies for sexual education and education of alternatives such as adoption, foster care, and maintenance. The act also provided government funding for new parents, pre-abortion counseling, and consultation with family (Mhlanga). Naturally, all these factors all served a role in bringing unplanned pregnancy down, abortions down, and therefore, abortion-related mortality down. It is therefore quite the gross exaggeration to claim that the legalization of abortion was the sole factor in bringing abortion-related mortality down in South Africa.
In the United Kingdom in 1967, unsafe abortion was the leading cause of maternal death (Russo & Steinberg, 164). There was a sharp decline is unsafe abortion deaths immediately after abortion was made legal after 1967, which everyone attributes to the legalization of abortion. Yet, what is often ignored is that the availability of birth control was introduced simultaneously with the legalization of abortion (see “Confidential Inquiries”). So of course unsafe abortion related deaths would drop dramatically if women were now taking contraceptives as well.
Another popular statistic used by pro-choice advocates is that New York saw a 50% drop in death from unsafe abortion once it was legalized in 1970 (Russo & Steinberg, 164). Yet, here are the specifics from the actual report: Yes, there was a drop in deaths from abortion, but there was a parallel drop in maternal deaths overall (see table below). The proportion of maternal deaths from abortion remained the SAME as the years prior to abortion’s legalization (Harris, O’Hare, Pakter, & Nelson, 417). To say that the legalization of abortion was the driver behind the drop in maternal deaths ignores the proportional relationships between abortion and maternal death.
Medical Access and Quality Saves Lives, Not Abortion’s Legality
This leads to another important topic regarding illegal abortion: Medical access and quality. Whether an abortion is legal or illegal, doesn’t determine its safety. Medical access and quality determines whether an abortion is safe or unsafe. Law can influence these factors, but medical access and quality is the primary determinant.
Take the exaggerated claim that thousands of women died from illegal abortions in America prior to Roe. In truth, only prior to the Penicillin era is it recorded that over a thousand women died from abortions in the US. With the application of Penicillin and other medical advancements, deaths per year had dropped to a little over 300 a year in the 1950’s, and less than 300 per year in the 1960’s. All while abortion was illegal in the US (excluding a few states starting in 1966). By 1970 death rates fell to 128 a year, and by 1972, with the Supreme court’s decision to legalize abortion, rates plummeted to 39 deaths per year. By the 1980s deaths per year dropped as low as eight a year, (Gold). To further confirm this, the proportion of maternal deaths caused by abortion in the 1930’s when illegal abortion death tolls were very high was 18%, but in the 1960s when the death toll was dramatically lower the proportion of maternal deaths from illegal abortion was 17% (Gold). As of 2007, there were 12.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in America. Or .01% of all births (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Pre-Roe: In the 1950s this percentage was 0.08%, in the 1960’s it was 0.04%, in the 1970’s 0.02% (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Post-Roe (1975) it was 0.01% and has been hovering around there ever since. Clearly abortion related death was the result of medical quality and access, not the legality of abortion.
However, even after abortion became legalized, women still frequently died from the procedure. The late Dr. Denis Cavanagh, former chair of the OB/Gyn Department of St. Louis University, once wrote, “… it really makes no difference whether a woman dies from legal or illegal abortion, she is dead nonetheless. I find no comfort in the fact that legal abortion is now the leading cause of abortion-related maternal deaths in the U.S.,” (Cavanagh, 375).
When discussing developing nations, medical quality and access is a vital component to consider. According to the World Health Organization, unsafe abortions are defined as abortions carried out by individuals without the necessary skills to provide a safe abortion and/or within an environment below minimum medical standards. This is why 97% of unsafe abortions are carried out in developing third world countries (Grimes, Benson, Singh, Romero, Ganatra, Okonofua, and Shah, 1). In other situations, medical standards are not necessarily the problem, it is an issue of distance. In developing nations, the far distance, or inability to travel, to medical facilities forces women to attempt self-abortions (Grimes, Benson, Singh, Romero, Ganatra, Okonofua, and Shah, 1). This takes place regardless of the legality of the abortions. As many pro-life advocates point out, this is a symptom of other social issues that fall outside of abortion’s legality.
Many of the horrors reported of loss of life from illegal abortion come from poor developing countries like Kenya, Nicaragua, etc. Places where poor medical conditions and sanitation lead to high fatalities in all aspects of life, not just illegal abortions. In Peru, the Philippines, and Brazil, abortion mortality has dropped significantly because of safer medical practices, not because of changes in abortion legality (Grimes, Benson, Singh, Romero, Ganatra, Okonofua, and Shah, 3). When abortions are performed by a competent and regulated provider that meets medical standards only 1 in 100,000 mothers die, where in undeveloped nations 17 in 100,000 mothers die (Russo & Steinberg, 160).
Another factor that skews statistics is which countries outlaw abortion. Countries that restrict abortion are usually less developed nations with poor medical care and infrastructure, as compared to countries that allow abortions which are generally wealthier and have better medical care and infrastructure. Since more abortion related deaths occur in these poorer countries where abortion is illegal, pro-choice advocates tend to blame the deaths on the legality of abortion instead of the more obvious factor; the state of that country’s medical care.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reported that the dramatic drop of maternal mortality in the 20th century is due to rising standards of living, medical advancements, declining fertility rates, improvements towards prenatal care, and safer delivering hospitals (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). The legalization of abortion was not mentioned in their report. Clearly the legalization of abortion does not play as big a part in the improving of women’s health and safety as pro-choice advocates claim.
The question still remains though; if abortion is outlawed, wouldn’t that force a woman seeking one into the back alley? Well, looking back pre-Roe we see that this was not necessarily the case for many women. Since evidence of abortions can be hard to distinguish at times, many physicians in medical settings were providing abortions pre-Roe, but masked them as different but similar procedures or allowed them as abortions based on confessions of rape or incest regardless as to whether that was the actual cause or not (Rudy, 60). In other situations doctors would purposefully diagnose a pregnancy as life threatening for the woman, even though there was no evidence as such, then proceed to carry out the abortion justified before the law (Rudy, 62). Thus, pre-Roe, women were getting abortions in the same “safe” setting they would have, had abortions been legal. The difference one can argue is that finding physicians willing to do an abortion could be difficult and in many cases expensive. But these concerns can be rectified by pro-active and re-active solutions that will be discussed later.
Making the Killing Safer
In analyzing the Back Alley argument it is easy to get caught up in the historical statistics and forget to look at the basic principals of the argument. The back alley argument is stating that abortion needs to be legal so that women don’t die from illegal/unsafe abortion. But let us critically think about this argument. This argument does not justify that the action in question (abortion) is permissible, it only argues that people engaging in the action need to be protected from harm. The argument acts like a red herring, drawing your attention away from the real question at hand of whether the termination of pre-natal human life is right or wrong, and instead makes you focus on the woman alone. In essence, the back alley argument says women are going to kill their prenatal children anyways, so we might as well make it safe for them to do it.
Can you imagine if we extended this logic to other areas in society? What if we rationalized that people are always going to drive drunk, so instead of taking steps to prevent drunk driving, or make drunk driving illegal, we should instead just focus on making cars so safe that no one will die from drunk driving accidents anymore. Therefore, the Backalley argument cannot rationally stand on its own.
A common misconception I’ve come across frequently within the pro-life camp is that every child is wanted by someone. It may not be the parents. But someone wants that child. I once believed this as well, but it frankly does not bare out in real life. There always have been and, sadly, probably always will be children in orphanages, or in broken homes, or in more recent cases, children containing an attribute whether sex or disease that influences the parents to abort. Real life shows us that children are at times unwanted for various reasons. But does this justify the act of abortion?
Every Child a Wanted Child
A popular pro-choice statement is, “Every child wanted.” Meaning that only wanted children are born. But let us think about this ideology rationally. What this ideology promotes is that your worth and value is determined by others wanting you. I can’t think of much that is more dehumanizing and damaging to one’s self-esteem than this notion that my worth as a human depends on others wanting me around. Not only does this stand against the concepts of basic human rights outlined by the UN, but one could argue that this same train of thought has been behind virtually all world atrocities throughout human history. Think of a past incident of genocide or ethnic cleansing and you’ll find the same morbid logic that only humans deemed wanted by those in power are allowed to live.
In addition, feelings of want or un-want is surely a fluctuating emotion that changes over time. There are surely times when our own family members are unwanted, think teenagers! Yet we would never allow this to be the justification for killing one of our family members. Such a feeling of un-want is ever-changing and thus arbitrary. Case in point, studies in 2006 found that women are more likely to reclassify the status of their child from “unwanted” to “wanted,” if surveyed after birth, as opposed to before birth, (Russo & Steinberg, 148).
Furthermore, think about what this says to women in society. To facilitate self-esteem in young women we often preach to them that their worth and value is not determined by whether or not they are wanted. Yet, we turn around and tell them that if their child is not wanted it is perfectly acceptable to reject that child and have an abortion. That is a grave contradiction with powerful consequences.
In a perfect world it would be great if everyone was wanted. If people of all different ethnicities, religions, sex and age were wanted. But this is not the case in the real world. There are certainly times in our lives were another person is unwanted. However, this in no way is a justifiable measure for killing that other person.
Now some might argue that because a child is unwanted they are destined to life of abuse and neglect. Therefore, abortion is a more humane way of avoiding such a life of misery. To explore this belief let us first ask, do unwanted pregnancies lead to horrible lives for the child? Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. The fact is, we don’t know. We can’t possibly know the outcome of every unwanted child’s life. So to argue that it is best to not risk possible hardships and just abort is an unwarranted gamble. To assert that a child’s life is not worth living is an arrogant assertion since it lies beyond anyone’s ability to predict with any actual certainty.
What we can be certain of is that being an unwanted child does not equate to a life of abuse at home. Studies conducted in the 60s and 70s found that unhealthy environments for children result from family structure and other social factors, not whether the child’s pregnancy was planned or unplanned, wanted or unwanted. Additionally, they found no correlation between abortion rates and child abuse in America (Willke, 140-142). Professor Edward Lenoski of Pediatrics at the University of Southern California conducted a study of 674 abused children and found that 91% were “wanted” by the parents that abused them. (Alcorn 91). So clearly being wanted does not remove the risk of abuse.
Now this is a moment where the pro-life camp tends to utilize child abuse as leverage against abortion by claiming that child abuse has increased since abortion was legalized. The rationale is based on studies that have shown that women who have had an abortion suffer from guilt and depression which prohibits healthy bonding with future children and subsequently leads to more risk of abuse (Alcorn, 91). Some suggest that by empowering women to feel “right” in their choice to abort children, they can view their child as someone that owes the mother everything, but that the mother owes nothing. The child is devalued and disposable, which can foster abusive situations to occur.
However, such a claim that abortion has increased child abuse is problematic as it relies on numbers of abuse incidences instead of the proportion of abuse incidents relative to the population. Naturally as a population grows such incidents of abuse could decrease in proportion but appear to be on the rise simply because the population is increasing. For example, let’s hypothetically say the population doubled in the next ten years, but abuse numbers only rose by a quarter percent. Thus incidents of abuse rose because the population increased, but proportional to the population, incidents of abuse technically decreased. With that said child abuse may have been rising for a time since the legalization of abortion, but it began to decline in the 1990s (Finkelhor & Jones, 685). And as of 2011, only 27.4 children per 1,000 experienced some form of child abuse (US Dept. of Health and Human Services “Child Maltreatment 2011,” 6-7). This would seem to undo the pro-life claim that abortion increases child abuse because abortion is still legal and yet abuse statistics are declining. So then what is to account for this decline in child abuse? Unfortunately, pro-choice advocates have been using the recent decline in abuse to support abortion, reverting back to the fallacious notion that wanted children are less likely to be abused. Ironically ignoring the twenty years after abortion was legalized when child abuse was rising. If legal abortion did cause the decline, the effects, though not immediate, should have occurred earlier than 20 to 25 years afterwards if this was the case.
Certainly claiming that abortion, by itself, is responsible for either the rise or decline of child abuse overlooks the many other factors in society that influence child abuse rates. At this time, researchers can’t for sure say why the child abuse statistics have been dropping in the last 25 years, but they speculate it is related to changes in demographics, drug epidemics, incarceration policy, economic prosperity, social intervention agents and agencies, psychopharmacology, etc. (Finkelhor & Jones, 695-705). It may be easy to blame or promote abortion for changes in our society but it is important to remember that society is very layered and complex. And though abortion has varying degrees of influence, it does not single handedly dictate major social trends, like child abuse.
However, in talking about abortion and child abuse I can’t help but notice the elephant in the room. The act of abortion terminates a human life. It could therefore be considered an act of violence. This would technically make abortion itself is a form of child abuse. It is fallacious, thereby, to say abortion reduces child abuse, because one could argue that abortion is an act of abuse in of itself. To use abortion as justification to prevent future child abuse is like saying that killing a woman prior to becoming married, I can prevent her from being abused by her spouse!
We can also be certain that unwanted children value their own lives, even thru incredible hard ships. Hardships in life, as painful as they are, can prove at times to be the very thing that drive people to do incredible feats. We can’t overlook the incredible greatness that has emerged from individuals with hard lives. Individuals who are grateful to be alive and have contributed immensely to others because of the challenges they’ve overcame. Examples of such individuals will be provided later.
Lastly, I can’t help but track the phrase back to its roots in the eugenic movement. In the 1950’s, Fredrick Osborn, the president of the American Eugenics Society once said, “The very word eugenics is in disrepute in some quarters … We must ask ourselves, what have we done wrong? I think we have failed to take into account a trait which is almost universal and is very deep in human nature. People simply are not willing to accept the idea that the genetic base on which their character was formed is inferior and should not be repeated in the next generation. We have asked whole groups of people to accept this idea and we have asked individuals to accept it. They have constantly refused and we have all but killed the eugenic movement … they won’t accept the idea that they are in general second rate. We must rely on other motivation. … it is surely possible to build a system of voluntary unconscious selection. But the reasons advanced must be generally acceptable reasons. Let’s stop telling anyone that they have a generally inferior genetic quality, for they will never agree. Let’s base our proposals on the desirability of having children born in homes where they will get affectionate and responsible care, and perhaps our proposals will be accepted,” (Egnor). The phrase endorsed: “Every Child a Wanted Child.”
So what you once thought was a campaign for prosperity of children has its roots in an ulterior motive to persuade “second rate” people with “inferior” genetics that should not be “repeated in the next generation,” to abort pregnancy. Think about that for a moment. We’ll discuss more of the eugenics movement shortly. But in the meantime, we should conclude that the “unwanted” status of a pre-natal child is arbitrary, likely to change after birth, dehumanizing, does not guarantee a life of misery and abuse, and in no way provides rational grounds for terminating the life.
The Disabled and Eugenics
Eugenics is the effort to control individual human reproduction choices to achieve a societal goal (Lewis, 319). The term was coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883 to mean “good birth,” and the ultimate goal was to produce a superior race of humans free from undesirable traits (Purdom, 162).
Sadly, eugenics has had a detrimental effect on societies world-wide that have adopted it, including America. In some states people were ordered to become sterilized if they scored too low on an IQ test and were deemed “feebleminded,” (Lewis 320-321). Through 1900 to 1970, over 30 states enacted sterilization laws that led to the sterilization of 60,000 to 70,000 people (Purdom, 165). Ironically, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood was an outspoken eugenicist herself (Purdom, 166 & Wiker, 8). In the 1940s the Nazi regime committed horrible atrocities to people against their will following eugenic principals (Purdom, 168). From 1934 to 1976, Sweden sterilized the mentally ill, poor, and sometimes single mothers (Lewis 321). In 1994, China publically forbade procreation among the mentally retarded, mentally ill and the epileptic (Lewis 321).
Now you might be thinking, well, these are things of the past or in other oppressive countries. But today eugenics is still alive and in America. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) allows parents that have created embryos in vitro to screen embryos for any genetic short comings (Purdom, 169). These short comings range from disabilities, to predispositions to cancer or late-onset illnesses, and even sex. That is, if parents want a male child, a female embryo is not desired. Any such embryos found are selectively destroyed.
Yet, the UN declares, “All persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with others,” and “…adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” (United Nations’ Enable Program). Knowing this, it would appear as though PGD and other forms of pre-natal screening for selective destruction is discrimination and stands against the basic of human rights.
Yet it is something happening very openly today. 84 to 91% of parents that find out their child has a physical handicap will abort the child (Van Maren). This should be troubling to readers. Not only because it is discrimination but also because if the decision is made that a child can be aborted simply because it has a mental illness or physical handicap, it means that social acceptance of mental illness and physical handicaps overrides human rights. Not to launch into a slippery slope argument, but if basic human rights can be infringed upon in this circumstance, what is the rationale to not allow it in other circumstances. For example, a post-natal handi-capped child. What would be the rationale to disallow the killing of people with mental illness no matter their age?
It would seem that this would never be so in our society. After all, we go to great lengths to provide equal access and freedoms to all handi-capped people. What are we to make of handicapped ramps, parking spaces, special education programs, Special Olympics, and an overall goal to normalize and improve the lives of those with handicaps. Clearly we’re moving towards better and better facilitations for the handi-capped as our culture places more value in overall equality for everyone. Yet if a woman is found to be carrying a child with a handicap, we suggest she abort it? This would appear to greatly contradict our values of equality for everyone.
No doubt, this has been a chief concern of medical ethicists around the world. McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville writes, “[W]e need to balance intense individualism with a robust concern for the community, and we need to consider the collective impact of our individual decisions. In our interconnected world, an order unavoidably emerges from thousands of individual decisions. For example, Quebec is proposing to offer all pregnant women screening for Down’s Syndrome. Whether or not, as individuals, we think that is good and ethical, the cumulative effect at the societal level of each woman’s individual decision (including the decisions not to abort when the fetus is ‘normal’) is to implement a 21st Century form of eugenics. Only the decision not to abort when the fetus has Down’s Syndrome is not a eugenic decision,” (Egnor). Dr Michael Egnor a neurosurgeon and professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University writes, “The modern eugenic view is that it is ethical to prevent procreation of people with genetic disabilities, and, in some circumstances, it is ethical to kill them in the womb,” (Egnor).
Granted, some of us might rush to defend the abortion of the handicapped under the pretenses that the life of a handicapped person is miserable and meaningless. Why would we willingly bring someone into this world with such a hard life ahead of them? Isn’t it more just and merciful to terminate their life in advance? I think a way to answer this is to confront the next handicapped or disabled person you come across and ask them if they would like to be alive or dead, or wish they’d have never been born. If even one person responded that they’re glad to be alive it would cast doubt into all general decisions to terminate the lives of the handicapped in the womb. As mentioned before, the logic that it is just to abort a prenatal child because its perceived future may be unsavory, is unsound. And it is critical at this point to hear from the disabled themselves and the family of the disabled to really grasp the flaw in this type of thinking.
Blaine Deatherage-Newsom was born in 1979 with spina bifida which paralyzed him from the armpits down. When asked if we had the technology to eliminate disabilities from a population would it be good public policy he wrote, “I hear that when parents have a test and find out their unborn child has spina bifida, in more than 95 percent of cases they choose to have an abortion… When these things happen I get worried. I wonder if people are saying that they think the world would be a better place without me. I wonder if people just think the lives of people with disabilities are so full of misery and suffering that they think we would be better off dead. It’s true that my life has suffering (especially when I’m having one of my 11 surgeries so far), but most of the time I am very happy and like my life very much. My mom says she can’t imagine the world without me, and she is convinced that everyone who has had a chance to know me thinks that the world is a far better place because I’m in it,” (Lewis, 320).
Anya Souza is a woman with Down’s syndrome who once publically declared, “I can’t get rid of my Down’s syndrome, but you can’t get rid of my happiness. You can’t get rid of the happiness I give to others either. Its doctors like you that want to test pregnant women and stop people like me from being born. Together with my family and friends I have fought to prevent my separation from normal society. I have fought for my rights…. I may have Down’s Syndrome, but I am a person first.” (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children).
In a statement issued at a funeral of a 10 year old boy with Down Syndrome by the grieving father, he said, “It would be natural now to think of David’s life as wasted, as having fallen short of what he might have accomplished had he been born physically and intellectually whole. But that would be a misunderstanding. His accomplishments are many. He brought his family closer, and helped them learn about love and sacrifice in a deeply and at times painfully personal way. He catalyzed friendships [here he pointed to the hundreds of people filling and spilling out of the room], and he brought people together who might never have met. He taught us much about love and about life through his own life. Now of course he is whole, with God, who knows much about the expression of love through suffering. Any one of us would be counted fortunate to have lived a life that moved so many people to love and compassion as he has. It’s a much better world because David has been in it,” (Egnor).
One father reflects on the birth of his daughter, Eden, born with Trisomy 18, that doctors suggested they abort, who lived for only seven days. He writes, “As difficult as Eden’s death was, we cherish our time with her. My heart breaks for those who lose their child before birth due to miscarriage or abortion. They have missed out on a marvelous experience with new life. The seven days we had with Eden were more glorious than I can describe. I will hold on to those precious memories for the rest of my life,” (Purdom, 172).
Egnor writes, “I am a pediatric neurosurgeon, and I take care of many children with profound genetic neurological handicaps. My kids are ‘unfit’ in the extreme. Many are paralyzed and many have profound cognitive deficits… ‘Why, exactly, would the world be better off with more of these children?’ To understand the answer to that question, you have to get to know these children and the people who care for them and who love them,” (Egnor).
International celebrity song writer and tenor Andrea Bocelli was once almost aborted after his mother suffered appendicitis while pregnant (White). His mother was told that Andrea would surely have deformities so she should abort him. But she chose not to and Andrea was born with very poor eyesight, finally becoming blind at age 12. His life is one of profound accomplishments in music, with countless awards and recognitions, not to mention his praiseworthy work in philanthropy. Whether through his beautiful music or philanthropic works, the world is a better place with Andrea.
Nick Vujicic, is a world-traveling motivational speaker and founder of schools and orphanages in developing countries, and in addition, has no arms and legs. He was born with no arms and legs, and had doctors known this prior to the birth they would have highly suggested Nick’s mother have an abortion, as they have done and still frequently do today. Yet Nick has gone around the world touching many lives with his plight.
All that it takes is one disabled person to be happy and value their life to undo the fallacious assumptions that terminating a disabled pre-natal life is merciful. It would seem that this assumption is more so cruel, especially when there are so many handicapped people that value their lives and enrich the lives of others.
Furthermore, it is also important to look at the tests themselves which are used to identify possible disabilities. Amniocentesis is when a needle is inserted into the abdomen to retrieve amniotic fluid for testing (American Pregnancy Association). The test results are commonly used to show if the child has Down’s Syndrome, Trisomy 21, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and other disorders, but it is sometimes used to determine fetus health or for paternity testing (American Pregnancy Association).
The test is not perfect: It is only correct 98 to 99% of the time and cannot gauge severity (American Pregnancy Association). This can lead to children being born with disorders despite the test not reflecting a disorder, or it can lead to a perfectly healthy child being aborted because the test reflecting a disorder. This can stem from the inability to gauge severity. This is a problem for parents who look to abort children with genetic disorders since there is a chance (albeit a small chance) that these parents are from time to time aborting children that are actually healthy and would have otherwise been born had the test not been taken. Additionally, the amniocentesis procedure can cause a miscarriage if the small needle wound leads to an infection within the womb, if the water breaks, if a premature birth is initiated, or if the needle strikes the baby (American Pregnancy Association). In the 1970’s, amniocentesis caused a miscarriage in 1 out of 100 women, whereas today, because of safer procedures, only 1 out of 1,600 women will have a miscarriage (0.06%) (Bilich). Other sources place the range between 1 in 200 to 400 (American Pregnancy Association). However, new tests are becoming available that pose less a risk.
Existing tests can predict Down’s Syndrome 90 to 95% of the time, but carry a 5% false positive risk (James). That is a shocking figure, in that of parents that would abort a child if it were to have Down’s Syndrome, 5% are being aborted that do not have Down’s Syndrome. Overtime, the tests are becoming more accurate, but we’re still left with parents aborting children they believe to be disabled that are not disabled.
One doctor spearheading newer, safer and more accurate testing framed it this way, “We are saving babies… and just because we know the results doesn’t mean women have to terminate. We are saving women from losing normal children just because of a procedure.” (James). So when it comes to children being misdiagnosed, they’re “saved.” Think of this critically for a moment. It goes back to the same skewed argument that abortion needs to be safe, to make the termination of life safer.
This underscores another important point, that sometimes doctor’s misdiagnose the situation. Melissa Ohden was aborted in 1977 by saline infusion, her mother expected to deliver a dead 22 week fetus. But Melissa came out alive, despite having jaundice and severe respiratory problems. The doctors said she would have severe physical and emotion disabilities as she aged due to the failed abortion attempt and premature birth, so the mother put her up for adoption. Melissa was adopted, and as she got older, she was not physically or emotionally disabled as doctors said she would be. Melissa married and became a therapist. She writes, “If the abortion had been successful… I would have never provided counseling and therapy services to children that have been abused, adolescents recovering from substance abuse and mental health disorders, women who have suffered domestic violence and sexual assault or women recovering from their addictions… I deserved better than abortion…” (Ohden, 5).
But what about pre-natal children with no brain activity, or genetic diseases that will kill them weeks, maybe days, after their born. Shouldn’t these babies be aborted if the parents wish to do so? Some would argue no. Many families decide to follow through with the pregnancy and have precious experiences naming the child, holding the child, and bonding with the child. When the child dies they undertake a healthy grief at the natural death of their family member. This is in stark contrast to the unhealthy grief and guilt that follows a deliberate termination of that life and denial of any place in the family, no matter how short. It is the difference between a natural death, and an intentional killing.
At the end of the day, if we take any member of the homo sapien species and place them outside legal protection, we undercut all cases and struggles against discrimination for all humans. The foundation for equal treatment under law is that we are all equal merely by being a member of the same species, with no distinction of race, sex, wealth, disability, age, or dependency. To exclude prenatal humans from this legal protection because they’re disabled is ableism in itself. The right to life overrides the right to quality of life, especially when considering that the quality of life is more often than not an unwarranted speculation of a future for others we cannot possible know .
Purdom writes, “Life is precious- no matter how short or how impaired that life may be,” (Purdom, 172)
Since the very beginning of the abortion debate in America, a woman’s health has always been a main topic of discussion. As seen earlier, the pro-choice camp attacks this subject from the angle of women needing abortion clinics to guarantee the procedures are safely carried out. The pro-life camp attack’s the subject of women’s health from a different angle, arguing that abortions themselves, even when carried out in medical facilities and clinics, still jeopardize a woman’s health. But as we shall see, the pro-life movement is losing ground on this subject as medical procedures become safer over time.
Physical Health Risks
When it comes to physical health, the statistics used by the pro-life camp are generally outdated and are from the past when abortion was a much more dangerous procedure. Unfortunately for pro-lifers, they’ll now need to mostly abandon the warnings of physical health risks since the procedure is much safer today.
As of 1998, 10 women died from abortion, but not all states are required to report death from abortion (Alcorn, 73). This is also not taking into consideration complications induced by the abortion that do not kill the woman until after the abortion. For example, if a woman acquires cervical cancer from an abortion and died from the cancer, the cause of death is the cancer, even though it was caused by an abortion.
Currently, only one in a million abortions carried out in the first 8 weeks will kill the woman, one in 29,000 abortions carried out in 16 to 20 weeks will kill the woman, and only one in 11,000 abortions carried out in 21 weeks or later will kill a woman (Guttmacher Institute “Induced Abortion”). Abortion is now considered one of the safest surgical procedures with a 0.05% chance of major complications (Guttmacher Institute “Induced Abortion”). Infertility, ectopic pregnancy, birth defects and spontaneous abortions are incredibly rare side effects for women that receive their abortion in the first trimester, which is when 86% of women have their abortions (Guttmacher Institute “Induced Abortion”). 1 to 5% women suffer from complications during the procedure and most are considered mild (Hadley, 55). 0.03% of abortions result in major complications (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). That equates to around 350 women a year.
Hadley writes, “When abortion is legal and can be performed early in pregnancy by a skilled person, using modern techniques, with ready access to emergency facilities in case problems arise, it is safer than having your tonsils out,” (Hadley, 43) This claim is true. More people die from getting their tonsils out than abortion. Bowers writes, “For all but the latest and most dangerous abortions, clinics are as safe as hospitals,” (Bowers, 88).
However, pro-life advocates argue that women still die from abortions as they have yet to bring the death rate to zero. In their opinion this should be enough to still persuade women not to have abortions. Bowers writes, “Though the likelihood of death from legal abortion is rare, the fact that some women do die underscores that abortion, like any other medical surgical procedure, still places patients at some risk,” (Bowers, 87). Though I would argue that this argument, though valid, is not strong. Women are more likely to die from child birth than an early abortion. So even though there is risk, this doesn’t mean government can ban abortion by risk, because if that were the case, all medical procedures would be banned. It would seem, with statistics considered, that current health risks would make early term abortion more desirable than carrying a child to term.
Mental Health Risks
Though in recent years physical health risks have swung in the pro-choice camp’s favor, the mental and emotional health risks have not. The statistics seem to be overwhelming in that having an abortion places a great risk of Post Abortion Syndrome or PAS. PAS symptoms include guilt, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, inability to bond with future children, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug use (Post Abortion Syndrome). Of women that have had an abortion procedure, 43% experienced feelings of anxiety, 32% experienced depression, and 26% experienced guilt (Kiniorski, 6). 50% of women will experience emotional distress after the procedure and 10% will experience severe emotional trauma (Kiniorski, 6). One out of every four teenagers that has an abortion will not be able to cope with the aftermath in a non-destructive manner (Kiniorski, 6-7). Men are also victims of abortion and have been shown to suffer from emotional stress as well.
“Women are more likely to experience post-abortion syndrome if; the woman was coerced into having an abortion by others, the woman is a teenager, the abortion procedure was conducted because the child was handicapped, the woman viewed herself as the ‘mother,’ and the embryo/fetus as her ‘child,’ and most of all, if the woman believed the abortion was not her ‘choice,’” (Kiniorski, 6).
It is often argued that these emotional distresses are related to verbal attacks from strangers at clinics or family at home, but many women do not experience these emotions immediately following the procedure, they are instead more prone to experience them during potential birth date of the child, or the anniversary of the abortion (Kiniorski, 6). Follow-up studies offered by clinics up to a week after the procedure fail to capture these effects. In fact, so many women have been found still harboring negative emotions from their abortion that two pro-choice therapists, Dr. Candace DePuy and Dr. Dana Dovitch, found it necessary to write a book to help women negotiate these emotions called, The Healing Choice; Your Guide to Emotional Recovery After an Abortion (Kiniorski, 6). Both therapists admit in the book their shock at the number of women who still felt negative emotions regarding past abortions years after the procedure.
Joan Appleton, an ex-abortion advocate with NOW and head nurse at a Virginia abortion clinic, writes, “ [Why is abortion] such a psychological trauma for a woman, and such a difficult decision for a woman to make, if it was a natural thing to do. If it was so right, why was it so difficult? … I counseled these women so well; they were so sure of their decision. Why are they coming back now- months and years later- psychological wrecks?” (Alcorn, 68).
It is no surprise then that we find so many post-abortion recovery centers and programs: Center for Post Abortion Healing, Helping and Educating in Abortion Related Trauma (HEART), Silent Voices, Victims of Choice, Women Exploited by Abortion (30,000+ members), National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, Post-Abortion Counseling and Education (PACE), Healing Visions Network, Counseling for Abortion-Related Experiences (CARE), Women of Ramah, Project Rachel, Open Arms, Abortion Trauma Services, American Victims of Abortion, Former Women of Choice, etc. The list is long. If abortion is just another surgery like a root canal or appendectomy, as pro-choice advocates often claim, why are there so many post-abortion trauma networks and organizations nation-wide? No one experiences such psychological damage after a root canal or appendectomy. Because abortion is not just another surgery.
However, not everyone agrees that abortion is the direct cause for PAS. The American Psychological Association reported that most stresses attributed to abortion are related to social stigma, low social support, low self-esteem, history of mental disorders, and feelings of commitment to the child (Major, Appelbaum, Beckman, Dutton, Russo & West, 3). It is believed that though women do experience mild emotional trauma of depression, sadness and guilt, no concrete statistics can successfully link single abortions to severe mental trauma. In other words, other influences are the cause for why women react to abortion in such an unhealthy way. That is to say, abortion is not directly at fault. But one could argue that soldiers may be more susceptible to PTS syndrome because of other outside influences of the same nature: History of mental disorders, low self-esteem, low social support, etc. It wouldn’t change the fact that witnessing violent combat is probably a bad thing we shouldn’t be exposed to, nor would it make such events acceptable. Being predisposed or less equipped to handle an experience which leads to mental and emotional disorders does not free the cause of the experience in itself from scrutiny. Just as this wouldn’t make violent combat “good,” neither does it make abortion “good.”
Under further review, the report did not look into women who have had multiple abortions though which may or may not have the same conclusion, and the statistics used to compile the report are all prior to 1990. A more recent study based off of reports from multiple statistics taken from 1995 to 2009 found that there is, “a moderate to highly increased risk of mental health problems after abortion. Consistent with the tenets of evidence-based medicine, this information should inform the delivery of abortion services,” (Coleman, 180). The study found that women that experience an abortion are 81% more likely to suffer from some form of mental trauma. Whereas the APA report believed it could not attribute these symptoms to be in direct relation to abortion specifically, this report conclude that 10% of mental trauma experienced by women who have had an abortion could be directly attributed to an abortion procedure.
Serrin Foster, Executive Director of the FFL, writes, “We can no longer ignore the psychological toll abortion has had on the lives of women and men,” (Kiniorski, 7).
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
Let us hypothetically say that abortion is made illegal once again. Are there exceptions to the rule? In the past when abortion was illegal there were exceptions to the rule. And even today we see that with abortion legal, Gallup polls reveal that the majority of Americans do think abortion should be legal indeed, but with restrictions (Saad, 2002). This is what we would expect on issues that aren’t black and white. And on the issue of abortion, we see that often times there are some very murky gray areas. What are we to do in situations where both the mother and child’s lives are in jeopardy? What do we do in situations of rape or incest?
When Both Lives are in Jeopardy
There are on very rare occasions situations where complications during pregnancy or birth results in a situation where both the lives of the mother and child are in jeopardy, and only one can be afforded. During these predicaments the situation is clearly balancing one life vs. another life and any ethical doctor would of course consult the mother and the family if time permitted. If there is no time to consult family, then the decision is an ethical one made at the discretion of the doctor. If the doctor decides to abort the child to save the mother’s life, this doctor cannot be faulted since his actions were dependent on saving a life. This contrasts with the vast majority of abortions which are not conducted to save a life, but solely for the purpose of terminating a life. Dr. Landrum Shettles, a biologist and pioneering research for invitro fertilization, indicated that less than 1% of all abortions are performed to save a mother’s life (Alcorn, 76).
But there is another factor to consider. Doctors are disciplined professionals, highly educated and highly respected in our culture, as they should be. But they cannot predict the future. At times a doctor may make a judgement call or encourage a course of action for the mother that is made based off their professional expertise. These calls are based off their training and personal experiences, but no doctor (or any human for that matter) and predict any future outcome with 100% certainty. There are numerous stories of women risking their lives to deliver the child despite doctor suggestions and both survive (Rosales, 16-17). This is said not to cast doubt on the expertise and insight doctors have to make medically sound judgement calls. It is said to clarify that the rare situation in which both mother and child may die, is made even more rare by circumstances in which mother and child did survive despite being told one must be sacrificed. Ultimately, the decision lies with the patient and patient’s family on how to respond to such a dilemma and clearly would be an exception to any law making abortion illegal.
Rape: The Word Every Pro-Lifer Fears
I have yet to encounter any abortion debate or discussion where rape doesn’t come up. Rape seems to be forever engraved into the debate and is often the go to magic bullet used by the pro-choice camp to put down any pro-life argument. After all, if abortion is made illegal then we’re forcing women into a corner where they must potentially carry to full term an unwanted baby that is biologically half them and half their rapist. Rape is painful enough, so how can we force anyone to endure even more pain by carrying their rapist’s child?
Before one comes to a conclusion on whether rape should or should not be an exception to the rule, there are some factors to consider. First, pregnancy through rape is incredibly rare, but it does happen. Anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 abortions are due to rape or incest (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), accounting for about 1% of all abortions. It might seem initially surprising. Why would the pro-choice camp focus so hard on such a small portion of abortion cases to fight for abortion’s legality? The simple answer is sympathy. A resort to rape for sympathy is why pro-choice advocates stress rape cases so frequently, because it diverts the argument to a more justifiable position (a position no one wants to challenge) while avoiding the overwhelming majority of why abortions are chosen, which isn’t because of rape. And though it may hurt the pro-choice cause to be so focused on something that represents such a small portion of abortions, it still doesn’t change the fact that rape does occur, and women have abortions because of it.
It also seems that the more you ponder how the exception of rape plays out in an anti-abortion society, many complexities emerge. For example, the rape would have to be proven, which can be difficult to prove at times. Since rape is an emotionally traumatizing form of violence many victims cannot bring themselves to report it and wish to keep it secret. However, upon finding out they’re pregnant and desire an abortion, the evidence of rape is no longer present. How can the woman prove it is rape at that point? This situation requires laws written in such a way that rape is confirmed on testimony alone. Which causes problems in situations where a male is falsely accused of rape, and lack of physical evidence his only vindication.
Pre and Post-Roe women had admitted to falsely claiming rape to remove the stigma surrounding their unplanned pregnancy. Pre-Roe this made receiving an abortion provider easier, post-Roe it is used to generate more support from loved ones. The most famous case is that of Norma McCorvey, the young woman we know as “Roe” from the landmark case Roe vs. Wade. McCorvey admitted being raped to elicit sympathy in court, only years later to admit it had all been made up (Alcorn, 79). As an interesting side note, McCorvey has since changed her views on abortion and is today very pro-life.
Another factor to consider are the ethical ramifications of what aborting a rape pregnancy actually equates to. Which if you think about it, boils down to responding to one act of violence on an innocent person (rape) with another act of violence on an innocent person (abortion). Many argue that two wrongs do not make a right, and the abortion cannot undo the pain of the rape. Let us not forget the mental and emotional harm that can happen to the mother resulting from an abortion. So abortion does not alleviate mental or emotional harm after rape, it just serves as a different kind of mental and emotional harm. So ultimately the end result comes down to ending an innocent life to mitigate the trauma done to another innocent life. Or in another words, creating a second victim to the crime.
Now is a good time to address situations where rape pregnancies are carried to full term. After all, the pro-choice camp (and often the pro-life camp as well) seems to think that all rape pregnancies are going to end with abortion whether legal or not. But such is not the case. Many women do carry their children to full term despite the conception of the child resulting from rape. So what do these mothers and children have to say?
Rebecca Kiessling was conceived in rape, her mother carrying the baby to term and placing Rebecca up for adoption. Rebecca writes, “I could hear the echoes of all those people who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, ‘Well, except in cases of rape. . . ,’ or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: ‘Especially in cases of rape!!!’ All these people are out there who don‘t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living… know that most people don’t put a face to this issue. For them, it’s just a concept — a quick cliché, and they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I do hope that, as a child of rape, I can help to put a face, a voice, and a story to this issue.” (Kiessling).
Joyce McCauley-Benner was raped and impregnated when she was in college. She contemplated abortion and amidst the despair realized, “…I did not know who the father of my baby was yet. I did know who his mother was. And it was me. There was as much of me in this baby as there was the rapist… How could I allow another piece of me be taken away?” (McCauley-Benner, 11).
In the book Victims and Victors, by David Reardon, 192 women who were raped and subsequently became pregnant (of which, 55 children were subsequently conceived) were interviewed. Reardon writes, “Nearly all the women interviewed in this anecdotal survey said they regretted aborting the babies conceived via rape or incest. Of those giving an opinion, more than 90% said they would discourage other victims of sexual violence from having an abortion. On the other hand, among the women profiled in the book who conceived due to rape or incest and carried to term, not one expressed regret about her choice,” (Alcorn, 82).
Would it be easy to carry a child conceived in rape to full term? Of course not. And I for one, cannot even begin to imagine having to go through such an experience and make such a decision. But it would seem that in a situation where all outcomes are not ideal, one must decide for themselves which would have the least traumatic and damaging outcome. And I for one would merely point to the children of rape for guidance on this issue. Their right to life and the positive impact they can have on the world. Think of people like Jessie Jackson, Eartha Kitt, Frederick Douglass, Ethel Waters, Layne Beachley, and Ryan Scott Bomberger are just a few examples people conceived in rape that have contributed greatly to the world and thankfully, were not aborted. Kiessling is a great example of this, and she shares the numerous stories of other abortion survivors conceived of rape on her website which I highly encourage others to visit: http://www.rebeccakiessling.com/Othersconceivedinrape.html
Kiessling writes, “Do you claim to care about women but couldn’t care less about me because I stand as a reminder of something you’d rather not face and that you’d hate for others to consider either? Do I not fit your agenda?” (Kiessling).
MAKING ABORTION ILLEGAL AGAIN
Ask any pro-life advocate whether abortion should be illegal again and you’ll more than likely get a quick “yes” without hesitation. But the complex issue of abortion goes beyond just its legality. And many false claims are made from both pro-life and pro-choice camps as to what would happen if abortion was made illegal again. I believe one can predict, with some degree of certainty, the outcome of what would happen if abortion were made illegal again by taking a look to our country’s past when abortion was illegal, as well as looking at other first world countries where it is illegal.
The first point to make is that making abortion illegal does not end all abortion as some pro-life advocates seem to suggest. When abortion was illegal in America, abortion continued to take place at medical facilities, in private unsafe environments, or women traveled out of the country/state to have their abortions. As is currently the case in Ireland and Poland. The point being that making abortion illegal doesn’t end abortion.
Another point to make is one of prosecution. Pre-Roe, abortionists were hardly ever prosecuted, and not because of secrecy necessarily. Often, doctors would be doing it and people where aware of it, but didn’t challenge it because the doctor was fulfilling a community need. As long as they didn’t make a business out of it (Joff, 78). One pre-Roe abortionist admitted, “The police know I’m doing abortions, sometimes they refer people to me,” (Joff, 93). Pre-Roe, anti-abortion doctors would send their pregnant wives and daughters to other doctors that did provide abortions (Joff, 11).
But even though making abortion illegal does not end abortion, it does reduce abortion cases. Studies show that only 6 to 20% of women seeking abortion would get one illegally if it were not legal (Reardon). In European nations where abortion is generally legal, 12 to 44 women per 1,000 have abortions, where in Latin America nations where abortion is generally prohibited, 12 to 31 women per 1,000 have abortions (Russo & Steinberg, 161).
Kiessling writes, I’ve often experienced those who would confront me and try to dismiss me with quick quips like, “Oh well, you were lucky!” Be sure that my survival has nothing to do with luck. The fact that I’m alive today has to do with choices that were made by our society at large, people who fought to ensure abortion was illegal in Michigan at the time — even in cases of rape, people who argued to protect my life, and people who voted pro-life. I wasn’t lucky. I was protected.” (Kiessling).
What this all tends to demonstrate seems to be a confirmation that, just as the founders of the feminism in America declared, abortion is a social problem. A reflection of the problems our society suffers from. Making abortion illegal takes this social issue and turns it into a criminal issue. This is similar to America’s “war on drugs” in which drug abuse, a social issue, was elevated to criminal status. In both situations we see that this does not end the crime, though it does reduce the crime to varying degrees with any success being heavily debated. Still, if abortion is defined as the unjust taking of a human life, and thus a violation of human rights, it must be held, on mere principal alone, a criminal issue. Thus abortion should be illegal in America. But pro-life advocates should not be deluded into thinking this solves the problem outright.
It seems to me that if we are to truly end abortion in this country and all others, steps need to be taken on both a proactive and reactive scale. This is of course currently happening, but since abortion is still presently being practiced, there is clearly room for improvement. The first step in ending abortion must start with proactive solutions and this means education and contraceptives. Even the eugenicist and founder of planned parenthood, Maragaret Sanger, stressed education in sex to prevent abortions, “it is first necessary that women should know something of the processes of conception, the prevention of which frees them of all risk of having to resort to abortion,” (Sanger, 3).
There are two main methods of sexual education; risk education and risk avoidance (Adam, 81). Yet only one or the other is taught in school settings. Why? Because even though they sound like they belong together and could be taught side by side, they’re actually quite different from each other. The risk education strategy educates youth of the risks of sex (STD and unplanned pregnancy) and then presents the solution of a healthy sex life as protected safe sex. The risk avoidance strategy also educates youth of the risks but instead presents the solution as abstinence and life-long monogamy. And because both strategies propose very different solutions they cannot be taught simultaneously because the ultimate result is a mixed message. Hence why one or the other is chosen.
Of all unplanned pregnancies in America, 53% were conceived while using a contraceptive (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) The failure of these contraceptives is frequently linked to inconsistent or improper application. The most popular form of contraceptive is birth control, which, if used perfectly, will fail 0.3% of the time, though typical use has a 8.7% failure rate (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) Condoms fail 2% of the time with perfect use, but fail 17.4% of the time with typical use (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) The contraceptive with the worst performance is the cervical cap, which can fail up to 26% of the time with perfect use. The best form of contraceptive (with sexual activity) is a vasectomy, which only has a failure rate of 0.1% with perfect use (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Ultimately the surest way to prevent unwanted pregnancy is abstinence from sex, or sexual activity.
Even with safe sex, pregnancy can still occur. 54% of women who have had an abortion were using a form of birth control during the time they became pregnant (Guttmacher Institute “Induced Abortion”). It is only avoided proportionally to the form of birth control and its proper usage. Even if properly used, contraceptives cannot provide 100% protection from pregnancy, thus unplanned pregnancies still occur even when the risk education strategy is fully understood and applied by youth.
The only method capable of 100% protection from pregnancy is abstinence. When risk avoidance is fully understood and applied by youth it is 100% effective in avoiding unplanned pregnancies. But there in that last sentence is the chink in the armor: Applied. Abstinence, like safe sex methods, is only effective when applied. And not all people choose risk avoidance.
We live in a current culture that is sexually active. 13% of teenagers will have had sex by the age of 15. By the age of 19, 70% will have had sex. (The Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on American Teens”). Though, for all you worried parents out there, these numbers have shown slight decreases in recent years. However, the sexual activity of teenagers makes the abstinence/monogamy education approach far less effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies because it is battling to swim upstream against the fast flowing cultural river of casual sex. Compared to Canada, England, France and Sweeden, American teens are just as sexually active, but least likely to use contraceptives. Americans tend to have shorter and more inconsistent sexual relationships (The Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on American Teens”). It is no surprise then, that America has the highest teen pregnancy rates compared to other developed nations (The Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on American Teens”). This is why the risk education strategy has been more effective. It works within existing cultural norms of casual sex. To put in perspective: Pregnancy among teens has been cut in half since the 1990s, 86% of which is attributed to contraceptive use, and 14% is attributed to sex avoidance (The Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on American Teens”). Clearly risk education is more effective at ending abortion than risk avoidance.
This is where the pro-life camp tends to lose ground in the abortion debate. The majority of pro-life advocates uphold moral values that better align with risk avoidance education. Thus pro-life advocates tend to advocate risk avoidance education which has minimal impact on reducing unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions. This places the pro-life camp in an uncomfortable position. If they truly do want to bring abortion to an end, they must use the most effective solution, risk education. But this results in a compromise of their personal moral convictions. In fact, the only way to both maintain current moral convictions and have success with risk avoidance education is to take on the much more challenging, if not impossible, task of changing American culture. That is changing how sex is perceived and engaged in American culture. Until that change happens, if ever, the risk education strategy will be the most effective way to end abortion.
POST-NATAL (REACTIVE) SOLUTIONS
Though pro-active measures can be instrumental in bringing unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions down, they cannot prevent all unplanned pregnancies. There will always be men and women who have unplanned pregnancies. So this is where we must now cover post-natal solutions to unplanned pregnancies that will alleviate the need for abortions.
Where Pro-Life Fails and Succeeds When a Baby is Born
As mentioned prior, many countries have had great success in reducing unplanned pregnancies and abortions by using a variety of different techniques. Techniques that can truly be summarized as “choices.” Angelica Rosales, an abortion survivor who was supposed to be aborted by her mother due to medical concerns, writes, “Why don’t women have resources, educational opportunities, emotional support and job security available so they can pursue their goals so they’re not forced to make one of the hardest choices they will have to live with for the rest of their lives? Even when a woman says to me ‘I have the right to choose,’ if a woman chooses to have an abortion because she has no other options, we have failed her… Most women do not have abortions as a matter of ‘choice’ but because they feel they have no resources to support a different choice. A coerced choice is not a choice- it is a last resort,” (Rosales, 17)
A simple look at abortion statistics can help clarify why some women have abortions and what actions can be taken to help them not abort their children. For example, 42% of women having abortions earn incomes below the federal poverty line, $10,830 annually. 37% of women having abortions earn incomes between $11,000 and $20,000 annually. 3/4s of women having abortions say they cannot afford their child and that having a child would interfere with work (Guttmacher Institute “Induced Abortion”). One survey shows that 83% of women said they would have carried the child to term if they had received support from boyfriends, families, or other important people in their lives, (Alcorn 75). These statistics show that “support” for women with unplanned pregnancies is paramount to reducing abortion.
Women must have available choices for her unplanned pregnancy if we wish to alleviate the desire to have an abortion. This is where the pro-life camp has very mixed success. Many pro-life advocates focus so much on making abortion illegal and closing down abortion clinics that they can overlook the next obvious problem. Women having children they’re not willing, prepared, or capable to take care of. In this regard, many pro-life advocates have failed.
But, in this same regard, other pro-life advocates have been incredibly involved and successful. Pro-life Activist Randy Alcorn writes, “Countless myths have been attached to the pro-life movement. One example is the oft-repeated statement, ‘Pro-lifers don’t really care about pregnant women, or children once they’re born.’ A television reporter, cameras rolling, approached me at a pro-life event and asked for my response to that accusation. I said, ‘Well, my wife and I opened our home to a pregnant girl and paid her expenses while she lived with us. We supported her when she decided to give up the child for adoption. And since you asked, we give a substantial amount of income to help poor women and children.’ Then I introduced her to a pastor friend standing next to me who, with his wife, had adopted 19 children, a number of them with down syndrome and other special needs. The reporter signaled the camera man to stop filming. I asked if she wanted to interview my friend. She shook her head and moved on,” (Alcorn, 20).
Pro-life organizations provide services ranging from free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, support groups, childcare classes, financial management education, babysitting, diapers, children’s clothes, and housing (Alcorn, 20). Most post-abortion aid clinics are ran by or supported by evangelical Christian organizations (Kiniorski, 7). These are places where some pro-life advocates have succeeded and if all pro-life advocates were to get on board with these types of post-natal solutions they will see a monumental impact on bringing abortion rates down.
Adoption Facts and Myths
Abortion is also a very effective and key factor in bringing abortion rates down. Unfortunately adoption is fraught with misconceptions and even stigmas. Many women fear adoption almost as much as abortion. And this stigma can sometimes be propagated by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates where adoption has often portrayed as abandonment. What kind of woman would you be if you gave up your child? The answer is, you’d certainly be better than the woman that would kill her child. By offering your child up for adoption, you are acting on the belief that your child is valued.
Alcorn writes, “We should speak of [adoption] positively and show high regard for young women who release their child for adoption. We should publicly honor adoptive parents and bless adopted children. We should make prominent the excellent resources on adoption… Only by doing so can we help young women realize adoption is the courageous choice and one that both they and their child will later be proudly thankful for,” (Alcorn, 100).
Adoption also suffers from misconceptions and myths. For example, pro-life advocates can often fail to truly understand adoption statistics in America. There is this false notion that parents seeking to give their baby up should not fear that their child will end up in foster care because there are more parents willing to adopt than there are children in need of adoption. Thus, there is no need for mothers to abort. Just put your child up for adoption after birth and a loving family is guaranteed to pick them out, right?
At first glance the statistics seems to corroborate this belief. As of 2002 there were over 900,000 women in the US looking to adopt, 62% of which had taken steps to adopt. Overall statistics show 1.1% of women have adopted, and 1.6% are currently taking steps to adopt (“Adoption Experiences”1, 8). As of 2010 there were 115,000 children in the Foster Care system (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, “Persons Seeking to Adopt,” 4). Statistics show time and time again that there are more parents willing to adopt than there are children in need of being adopted in America. So the obvious question then follows, why do we have so many un-adopted children?
A closer look at the statistics shows the key issue of adoption in America today. Foster children are not as likely to be adopted because they are generally older, are part of a sibling group, are of color, and have experienced maltreatment. Adopters generally prefer children younger than 2 years of age, single (not part of a sibling group) and with no disabilities (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, “Persons Seeking to Adopt,’ 4). And here lies the issue because only 21% of children in foster care are 2 years of age or younger. Of children overall awaiting to be adopted in the US, only 18% are two years of age or younger, while the average age of a child awaiting adoption is 8 years old. As of 2012 there were 101,719 children in the US awaiting adoption, but only 52,039 children were adopted in 2012 (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, “The AFCARS Report”). For women seeking abortion, putting their child up for adoption doesn’t guarantee they’ll be adopted. Especially if their child is of color and has any disabilities.
In addition, many parents seek to adopt out of the country because of various laws in the US which allow the biological parents to have the ability to take their child back within a particular window of time. Parents not willing to endure that hardship thus seek children outside of the country, which only further increases the number of orphaned children in America. In 2007 and 2008, 136,001 and 135,813 children were adopted here in the US and abroad. (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, “How Many Children,” 9).
In summary, if the pro-life camp honestly desires to end abortion they must focus harder on providing accessible options for mothers with unplanned pregnancies and not just fall back on hopes for adoption alone. Mothers with unplanned pregnancies must be given options for financial support, education, etc. This is being done to certain degree, but it must be greatly escalated to ensure better results in bringing abortion rates down. And the best part is, this can be done regardless of abortions legality. Naturally the government could also step in to provide these services in correlation with abortion being made illegal and would have great success. But this would come at the cost of more government spending and thus higher taxation which most pro-life advocates tend to dislike. The end result being that the pro-life movement needs to step up their post-natal game, or support the government in doing so. Maybe both. But surely ignoring post-natal solutions will only keep abortion alive and well.
THE CHRISTIAN FACTOR
It would be ingenuous to say Christianity doesn’t have a dog in the abortion fight. America is largely Christian and the pro-life camp is almost all Christian. Therefore it is important to discuss a Christian’s proper role in the abortion debate.
Pro-Choice Christians: Guilty of Compromise
Though rarer than pro-life Christians, there are many pro-choice Christians. They fall into two categories: The very rare Christian that believes a child’s soul is not imparted to the child until some arbitrary point during the gestation. For example, the zygote having no soul, but a fetus having a soul. Therefore early term abortion is acceptable. Then there is the other more common Christian that believes abortion is a sin, but should remain legal for various reasons mentioned prior, like a woman’s right to choose, right to her own body, cases of rape, etc. But I believe both pro-choice Christian views are contradictory to Christian theology and thus invalid positions.
The first type is easily refuted by reading a couple verses from the Bible:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’” Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NIV).
So clearly if God knew us before we were in the womb and saw our unformed bodies we must have a value or soul that existed from the very beginning of conception. Taking this into consideration along with the fact that there is no Biblical evidence as to when God would arbitrarily grant a fetus a soul, but not an embryo, and it becomes clear that this position is invalid for a Christian. Which is most likely why it is so rare.
The other type of pro-choice Christian position is a much trickier one to resolve because it indeed grants a human soul at conception and believes abortion to be a sin, but argues that abortion should remain legal, justified under various circumstances. But many of these circumstances have already been refuted earlier so the only real issue left to contend is whether sins should be legal. Christian civil rights activist William Sloane Coffin put it this way: “It’s a cop-out to say that abortion is a sin but not a crime. That’s like saying slavery is a sin but not a crime, that I personally wouldn’t own slaves but I defend the right of others to choose differently.” (Berkenwald).
Unfortunately I cannot support Coffin’s position in full because it is too general. Sin cannot equal a crime under all circumstances. If this where the case, gossip, lying and coveting would be crimes. But we wouldn’t suggest that. So it is apparent that some sins are crimes that should be illegal and some sins aren’t crimes. The question is, where does abortion fit in this spectrum? I argue that if we accept the notion that the pre-natal human is a person with human rights, then abortion is murder. Murder being a sin we all agree to be illegal. And thus, abortion should be illegal on these grounds.
According to Schlossberg, the Christian response goes beyond law, “Churches need not enter the debate over what the law should be to fulfill their calling. But Christian churches cannot fully live out their calling in our time without speaking and ministering in response to the greatest moral problem of our time: legally sanctioned killing of the innocent.” (Schlossberg, 251) That said, I do not believe any Christian has rational grounds for being pro-choice. To be pro-choice they must compromise on some significant aspect of their faith.
Pro-Life Christians: A Need to be Effective and Authentic
As said before, many pro-life advocates are effective and doing the right thing. But the prior mentioned methods need to transcend to a lot more pro-life advocates if abortion is to be successfully reduced. This means pro-life Christians need to be much more effective in proactive and reactive measures to unplanned pregnancy, and equally important, bring more authenticity to their faith in Christ.
Let us tackle that last statement of authenticity first. Since, if accomplished, it will in turn manifest a desire for proactive and reactive solutions. If Christians live out a more authentic faith they will follow in Christ’s footsteps of charity and care for the outcasts of society and those in need. Yet all too often we see Christians outside of abortion clinics with signs and verbal outbursts of “sinner,” “whore,” and “hell.” Is this how Christ handled sin? Is this how Christ handled the Samaritan at the well, or the adulteress about to be stoned? These practices in which our Lord modeled grace and compassion is often missing in the pro-life camp. And many believe it is because the church itself is dropping the ball.
According to Terry Schlossberg, a longtime executive director and chairmen for multiple pro-life organizations, “There are small evidences of churches seeking to give witness and to provide pastoral care is response to abortion. This organized activity remains a weak ministry, characterized by perception of division and by pastors’ avoidance of the subject. Consequently, the Christian response to abortion continues to take the form of individuals and groups of Christians who work in community-based and para-church organizations, with little teaching and leadership from churches.” (Schlossberg, 249) And, “Abortion is often regarded as a diversion from the real mission of the church because it is thought to be more a controversial, social, and political issue than a matter of morality. Society, including pastors, moreover, tend to perceive moral issues as murky and confusing.” (Schlossberg, 250)
Other times it is because of lack of leadership, or misdirected leadership in the church that the congregation lashes out at mothers with unplanned pregnancies in ways that do much more harm than good. Rudy writes, “Stated simply, in treating Christian women with unwanted pregnancies as isolated and abstract individuals, we rob them of their connections, relationships, community, and we rob ourselves of the opportunity to care for and welcome both them and their children,” (Rudy 114). Hadley writes, “Guilt about sex (and strong feelings against abortion) keeps these young, church-going, college women not from sex itself, but from using contraceptives effectively. But, faced with unwanted pregnancies, they seek abortions, as millions of women before them have done,” (Hadley, 51).
This not only promotes an environment where women seek abortions, it also motivates others to support these women in having abortions. For example, pre-Roe abortionist David Bennett made the decision to provide abortions because of a girl he went to school with, who, after becoming pregnant, was out casted by society and all school activities. Bennett didn’t want other girls to have to endure the same (Joff, 86-87).
Clearly we need to be more authentic with our faith in Christ and more compassionate for the women in these circumstances. “…rather than blaming the woman for her choice of abortion, congregation members need to hold themselves responsible for things that block this woman from having the child, (Rudy, 124). This means the congregation needs to be active in providing solutions for the mother. If she is worried about getting kicked out of school, the congregation needs to talk and persuade school officials otherwise and work to change school policy. If the mother is afraid of losing her job, then the congregation needs to work at finding her another equivalent job. If the mother is worried about inability to raise the child, the congregation needs to provide whatever support necessary to ensure the child is raised effectively.
Rudy writes, “Christians must work to ensure this conversation does not function as an exercise in humiliation or intimidation but rather understand it as vitally necessary so that the church can begin to comprehend the realities associated with unwanted pregnancy. The congregation, then, needs such a conversation in order to correct the ills and oppression these women must bear,” (Rudy 124). Schlossberg writes, “Women who are pregnant and, for whatever reason, are considering abortion as a solution, are often women facing adverse circumstances. The abortion is evidence that they are in a search for help for a solution. Pastors and church members who fear the terrible consequences of a commitment to speak to and minister to these situations are also facing adversity and, just like those women, are facing a spiritual challenge. The church needs to pray that pastors and other believers will meet the challenge faithfully, for their own sakes, for the sakes of the mothers, and for the sakes of unborn children.” (Schlossberg 259-260).
This also means that protests of intimidation and negative reinforcement at abortion clinics needs to end. Not only because of its perversion of Christ’s message, but also because it is for the most part completely ineffective. Rudy writes, “Once a woman makes it to an abortion clinic, I believe that any intervention or protest there ceases to be an offering of support and becomes harassment. To attempt to stop abortion at the site of an abortion clinic is to enter the problem much too late,” (Rudy, 126).
Christians must be known by their compassion and love as well as their uncompromising attitudes towards abortion. Adam writes, “Christians who participate in the public debate… need to be known by their love. Love means more than just teaching sexual abstinence… Love means being willing to do the work and to be completely informed with current medical information,” (Adam, 87-88). Therefore, the church also needs to be informed and up to date with statistics and facts surrounding abortion to better equip followers to guide and support women with unplanned pregnancies.
Recall the pro-choice slogan, “Every child a wanted child.” Well, let’s strive to make men and women better educated on the issue, let us strive to provide financial support and housing for struggling mothers, let us meet the needs of mothers with unplanned pregnancies. So that mothers have real choices. So that every child will be wanted.
How You as a Christian can Help End Abortion
-Open your home to house a struggling mother or offer to babysit.
-Volunteer your time and services to aid women who are struggling to make ends meet due to their pregnancy or young child. Work to educate younger women to make better decisions, not just about abortion, but more preemptively, about their sexual relationships.
-Stay informed. Know the facts. Ensure the truth shines through.
-Research and give. Try to financially support organizations that offer healthy and effective methods for helping educate and aid women. However, research into these organizations first to familiarize yourself with their methods and financial integrity.
-If there isn’t already a ministry at your church, get involved in starting one and ensure the staff our equipped to be effective in supporting mothers. Remember: Charity and compassion is much more effective and Christ-centered than protest.
My goal in writing this lengthy analysis of the abortion debate was to provide rational and thought-provoking arguments as to why abortion should be ended with practical and effective methods to do so, in ways that are palatable to both the pro-choice and pro-life camps. But in providing the facts surrounding this issue, I am fully aware that many readers will not reach the same conclusion I have. Sherwood writes, “Facts, even when attainable, never have any practical or moral implications until they are interpreted through the grid of some sort of value assumptions. ‘Is’ does not lead to ‘ought’ in any way that has moral bindingness, obligation, or authority until its relationship to relevant values in understood,” (Sherwood, 40).
For example, my rational thinking for helping a disabled person by various means is founded in my belief that all human life has value. However, a materialist atheist can make the rational argument that devoting precious resources to the weak, instead of the strong and healthy, is a waste. Why prolong their hard life? Similarly, Hindus may believe in karma and make the rational argument that the disabled person is being punished for evils they committed in a previous life and should therefore not be assisted. Both the materialist atheist and Hindu can make rational arguments and yet reach conclusions the exact opposite of my mine. All because we maintain different world views.
So then this becomes a time for you the reader to assess your own worldview. How does it react to the facts and arguments made here? I have argued that it is biologically sound to argue that human life and “personhood” begins at conception/fertilization and that all other approaches are arbitrary and contradicting. And that this grants the pre-natal human rights, making abortion a violation of those said rights. I have argued that a woman’s rights, though important, does not negate the child’s rights because the right to life is far more important than the right to reproductive freedom. I have argued that the pro-life position is compatible with feminism and that the founders of the feminist movement were pro-life. I have argued that freedom of “choice” is not sufficient in keeping abortion legal. I have argued that abortion’s legality generates contradictions with other laws which can only be rectified by the outlawing of abortion. I have argued that appeals to un-safe abortion are generally exaggerated and misleading. I have argued that appeals to terminating the lives of disabled and unfit pre-natal humans is ableism and a violation of human rights. I have argued that appeals to rape are ethically unsatisfactory. I have argued that abortion puts women in jeopardy of severe mental and emotional trauma. And most importantly, I have argued that though making abortion illegal is ethically sound and would reduce abortion rates, the most effective ways in reducing abortion comes from proactive education options and post-natal support options for women with unplanned pregnancies.
Those are the facts and the arguments based on extensive research. How you choose to interpret it through your own worldview is up to you. At the very least, I hope I have demonstrated that one can maintain a rationally and ethically sound position that concludes abortion is a violation of human rights and should be rendered illegal. In closing, I will end with a statement I made in my original essay. Though you may disagree with everything I’ve written here, there is one thing we all can agree on: It is a great thing our mothers did not abort us while we were inside them. If not, you wouldn’t be reading this.
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