Refute This!
Deconstructing the
Pro-Life Position

What is the pro-life position based on? Quite simply it consists of four primary and interrelated premises. The first premise is this: The unborn human organism is a person, a human being, a full member of the species Homo sapiens. The second premise follows from the first: Since all people deserve rights, the unborn deserve rights. The third premise is that since the right to life is the most fundamental right, it follows that the right of the unborn to live takes precedence over any right a woman has, including the right to independence, privacy, bodily integrity, prosperity, and even good health. The fourth premise is that if the right to life of a fetus takes precedence over a woman’s right to anything but her own life, abortion is murder, unjustified homicide, and should therefore be illegal.

In addition to these basic premises, there are a number of ancillary and secondary arguments that are used to enhance and extend the core of the pro-life position. All of these premises and arguments are refuted below.

1. The unborn is a person from conception on because it exists as a separate and unique genetic entity, a human being, in the body, but not part of the body, of a woman.

The pro-lifers conflate three separate facts about human existence they are hoping no one notices. They confuse the genetic, biological, and legal ways of defining human life; or rather they pretend that they all mean exactly the same thing. They do not.

The genetic life of an individual begins when the egg cell gains its full complement of 46 chromosomes, give or take, and begins to divide, distinguishing itself from an ordinary “dead” somatic cell. Being “unique” is irrelevant to defining human life, since obviously twins are not unique but when born are certainly fully human. Since every non-germ cell in the human body is a complete genetic entity capable, at least theoretically, of being transformed into a baby, calling a fertilized egg a person is the same as giving nearly all human cells the status of people.

The biological life of the individual human organism begins at implantation, at the point of embryonic development where the individual embryo cannot merge with another embryo and cannot sub-divide to become more than one embryo. If it can merge and sub-divide, then obviously it is not an individual organism but merely a recipe.

The legal life of the individual human organism begins at birth or at the equivalent (the point of viability). Birth is a climatic and definitive experience, one that separates the body of the fetus from the body of the mother, liberating both from the exclusive relationship of parasite and host, and the mother from the threat of death and maiming that pregnancy and childbirth always entails. The mother, if she does not want the infant, is free to abandon it without killing it. The infant can now be adopted by those willing to accept the costs of its dependency. This is a proper dividing line for a society that claims to value freedom.

2. Since the unborn human organism is a person it deserves rights.

It is not a person (see above). Moreover, to grant it rights means to abridge a woman’s rights. There is no such thing as a right to enslave. Pregnancy and childbirth are inherently dangerous, debilitating, and costly. A woman does not give up her right to life and liberty simply because she is pregnant.

3. The majority of Americans (a majority of women is a variation on this theme) are pro-life, that is, they believe abortion is murder. Therefore, if abortion is once again made illegal, such laws will represent the will of the people.

It is obvious to anyone familiar with our Constitution that basic human rights are not subject to a vote. The right to abort either is or is not a basic human right. If it is a basic human right, it is not subject of the will of the people.

Also, what people say they believe and what they actually believe and are prepared to act upon are two different things. At any given moment, the vast majority of voters either cannot or most likely will not become pregnant, regardless of their behavior. Men, infertile women, no longer fertile women, and sub-fertile women represent the overwhelming majority of the voting population. Even most of the small percentage of women who are fertile are not at any given time facing a desperately unwanted and unaffordable pregnancy. Only when faced with such a pregnancy is one’s talk put to the test. It is easy to be pro-life when it costs one nothing. In short, people are hypocrites, saying one thing, but when their backs are against the wall, doing another.

The proof of the right-to-lifers’ hypocrisy is simple: If pro-lifers truly believed abortion was murder, then they would want it punished as murder, but for the most part they don’t. Very few pro-lifers call for those who procure and perform abortions, as well as those who aid and abet them, to be punished in the same manner as those who kill born human beings. Nor do they call for the proper disposal of the millions of unborn that are miscarried or spontaneously aborted every year.

4. Abortion is immoral because if one kills an embryo one kills a potential doctor, scientist, artist, etc.

When one does anything to interfere with the ability of an egg to become fertilized one is killing a potential person because an egg that is not fertilized cannot develop further. By this logic, all birth control ought to be illegal, including sterilization, and girls ought to be forced to marry at puberty, lest one waste egg cells. Furthermore, once cloning is perfected, everyone ought to save each and every cell of their bodies rather than allow potential humans to go to waste.

A variation on this theme is often put to an individual in this manner: “If your mother had an abortion, you wouldn’t be here. Since you value your life, then it would have been a bad thing if your mother had aborted you.”

This “logic” is often used to claim that even in cases of rape, a woman should not be allowed to abort. Extend this logic and anything and everything that leads to conception and then birth is a good thing. If a couple met in a Nazi death camp during WWII, later married and had a child, presumably that child should see Adolph Hitler and the death camps as good things since if they hadn’t existed, he or she wouldn’t have been conceived and born.

What is, is. What is not, is not. The feeling and thinking “you” that exists after birth did not exist at the time “you” were an embryo. In short, if you had been aborted as an embryo, you would never know you existed! The “what if” game is a meaningless exercise in futility that has no bearing on the issue of abortion or on any other moral issue.

Moreover, people who believe that a fertilized egg is or contains a “soul” are the same people who believe in heaven. Seems to me that if eternal bliss is the supernatural end of all innocent or redeemed human life, then dying as an embryo is like winning the lottery. No pain and infinite gain. Unlike the rest of us mortals who have to suffer some before we’re allowed to go back to God, embryos take the fast lane to heaven.

5. Pregnancy results as a natural consequence of sexual activity. Therefore, the desire for an abortion is the desire to immorally evade the consequences of one’s actions.

Pregnancy is not the inevitable consequence of sex. One does not consent to pregnancy by consenting to sex any more than one consents to an automobile accident when one gets in a car and drives. When any accident occurs, it is normally in one’s own interest to mitigate the consequences of those actions; that is not irresponsible but sensible. If a driving mistake results in an injury, it isn’t an act of irresponsibility to accept medical care. On the contrary, every attempt is made to return oneself (and one’s car) to the same condition one was in before the accident.

Abortion is an attempt on the part of a woman to return herself to the same condition she was in before she became pregnant. Not only isn’t it irresponsible, but is eminently responsible since to continue a pregnancy without sufficient financial, physical, social, and emotional resources is foolhardy and potentially dangerous. One may argue that such an attempt to return oneself to one’s prior condition involves the destruction of the unborn and that is what makes it irresponsible. But if that’s the case, then #5 is just a variation of #1.

Now the pro-lifer might argue that comparing pregnancy to a car accident is meaningless because pregnancy is “natural” and a car accident isn’t. I would respond by stating that human beings “interfere” with “nature” all the time and that such “interference” is “natural” for us. I put these words in quotes because if you think about them you will soon discover that they are so dependent on subjective interpretation as to be meaningless in a discussion of moral values, especially when such values are applied to legal issues.

6. Women somehow instinctively know that abortion is wrong because if it was right no woman who had an abortion would ever feel guilty.

This begs the question or rather many questions. Is overeating immoral? How about smoking, drinking, or gambling? Many people feel guilty about these things. How about putting Mom or Dad in a nursing home or euthanizing one’s cat or dog?

Lots of difficult decisions in life make a lot of people feel guilty, and bad habits of all kinds tend to induce guilt, partly or even wholly because others attempt to shame one into feeling guilty. Guilt is one of the most effective ways, after all, of maintaining social control. If everything that induced guilt were made illegal, there would be precious little human beings could do. Throughout history women have been made to feel guilty even over sexual behavior imposed on them. It is not immoral to be a rape victim because one feels guilty about being raped.

7. The pro-choice movement wouldn’t call abortion a tragedy, a difficult or sad choice, if abortion didn’t involve the destruction of human life. After all, one doesn’t feel that having a tooth removed is tragic or sad.

This is a variation of #6. Pro-lifers are largely religious absolutists. Such people do not understand moral ambiguity of any kind. Just as no rational person would confuse a zygote with a newborn baby, no rational person would confuse an embryo with a tooth. A tooth does not have the potential to develop into a human being, so the loss of a tooth is the loss of a tooth. The loss of an embryo, especially one that a woman would like to nurture if circumstances were more favorable, is the loss of a potential value. That is why abortion can be tragic and sad. That said, sometimes abortion is neither tragic nor sad, but simply a tremendous relief. I suspect this is often true when pregnancy results from a rape. (I should also add that having a tooth removed can be both tragic and sad, especially if the tooth is in the front of one’s mouth and one can’t afford to have it replaced.)

Even if one were to concede that a late abortion involved the destruction of human life, sometimes life needs to be destroyed. A pregnant woman whose fetus is threatening her life has the moral right to place her life above that of her fetus. Killing in self-defense is both tragic and sad but not immoral and most certainly should not be illegal. If all destruction of human life is immoral and should be illegal, then pro-lifers ought to pacifists. I suspect few of them are.

8. Abortion produces a disrespect for life.

How so? “Disrespect” needs to be quantified if this argument is to be subject to any kind of proof. One could argue that if abortion leads to a disrespect for life there ought to be a explosion of violent crime in its wake. Has there been since Roe v Wade? Legal abortion has resulted in lower crime rates, not higher. The causes of crime are complex, but certainly poor parenting contributes to crime and one does not encourage good parenting by forcing women to bear children they do not want and are not prepared to raise.

9. Abortion is not part of God’s plan.

Oh, yes it is. If one believes that God created nature, then God is responsible for the destruction of billions of the unborn in short order, a natural holocaust regarded as irrelevant by pro-lifers. Why the cavalier attitude toward miscarried “children”? Seems to me that a dead fetus is a dead fetus regardless of who destroyed it.

10. Abortion is a peculiar institution, akin to slavery.

This is a strange argument since there is nothing particularly peculiar about the right to determine the content of one’s own body in a society that claims to hold freedom as its highest value. What right could be more fundamental than the right to own (and therefore control) one’s very self? I should also add that abortion is a procedure not an institution.

Slavery is a rather simple concept, certainly as simple as that of self-ownership. Slavery is involuntary servitude. It is obvious that a pregnant woman does not consign her unwanted unborn to involuntary servitude when she obtains an abortion. It is also obvious that pro-lifers seek to consign her to involuntary servitude by making it difficult for her to obtain an abortion. Reproductive slavery is the goal of pro-lifers. To label oneself an abolitionist while advocating the most fundamental form of slavery there is is the height of hypocrisy.

11. If and when artificial wombs are developed, there will no longer be any justification for abortion.

The existence of artificial wombs would not substantially affect the demand for abortions because such wombs would have to be paid for, and the cost of renting such wombs and paying people to monitor them would be prohibitively expensive for many women, just as the cost of carrying a pregnancy to term is prohibitively expensive for many women who choose to abort.

The second reason is even more important. If every implanted embryo was saved from abortion through artificial wombs, tens of millions of additional children would be born each year all over the world. In the United States alone, about a million additional children would be born. Are there a million couples in the US every year willing and able to adopt children? I don’t think so. Most women would be seriously disinclined to place embryos in artificial wombs without knowing beforehand that their gestated babies had loving parents awaiting their arrival.

12. Legal abortion promotes promiscuity and immoral sexual behavior since fear of pregnancy no longer acts to restrain sexual impulses.

This argument appeals to a childish notion of male sexuality. The idea that fear of pregnancy would restrain most men from acting on their sexual impulses is absurd. Men do not get pregnant. Throughout human history millions of men have engaged in explicit forcible rape and casual sex with prostitutes, slaves, and concubines. The fact that such sex frequently resulted in pregnancies was nearly irrelevant. If fear of pregnancy motivated men to remain chaste, then chastity would be the historical norm for the male sex and it never has been. If anything the ubiquity of rape, prostitution, concubinage, and sexual slavery is sufficient evidence that male promiscuity has always been the norm and that male chastity is the exception, not the rule. Fear of pregnancy may indeed often act to control the behavior of women, but since women can always be forced, female chastity is often more a matter of luck than of choice.

13. Abortion hurts women, therefore pro-lifers are the real feminists.

This is the most infuriating of the pro-life arguments. As an example of this twisted logic, pro-lifers will refer to Susan B. Anthony, who was supposedly anti-abortion. They conveniently fail to mention that abortion was a highly dangerous operation in the nineteenth century and usually involved a well-developed fetus since it took longer to confirm a pregnancy in those days. Even a staunch pro-choicer such as myself would hesitate to advocate abortions that would risk a woman’s life and/or destroy a fetus in the latter stages of its development. Most abortions today are performed early in a woman’s pregnancy and are far safer than childbirth.

Yes it is true that sometimes women and girls are pressured into getting abortions by their parents, boyfriends, or husbands, but recognizing this fact is not a pro-life argument. Those who are pro-choice believe in choice not mandatory abortion. No one should be forced or pressured or intimidated into getting an abortion.

It is also true that there are women who feel remorse after an abortion. This should come as no surprise. There are many pregnancies that would be wanted if circumstances were just a little bit different at the time a decision must be made. But it is always easy to second-guess a decision after the fact—it costs one nothing. When costs count, decisions are made on the basis of those costs. This is true of abortion and everything else in life.

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