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Abortion: Murder or Right?

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Whether about the murder of an innocent or the right of a woman to decide what to do with her own body, the argument over abortion is long running, full of fallacy, and highly emotional. Logic will help wade through the charged terms and poignant testimony to determine the real issue at hand, and find an answer best suited for compromise and legislation. Using arguments from both sides, this paper will show why abortion, in the third trimester, is immoral and should be illegal.
The argument between “life” and “choice” is full of connotative terms that set up straw man fallacies on both sides. Even the terms the two sides call themselves, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” insinuate that those in the other camp are “pro-death” or “anti-freedom,” respectively, and as such, this paper will refer to the two sides as “those who oppose” and “those who support” legalized abortion. Some of the most bumper-sticker worthy arguments are based on these straw men, such as “Abortion is murder,” and “My body, my choice.” When referring to the unborn, those who oppose legal abortion will say “unborn child,” “innocent,” and “victim” for empathy while those who support abortion will say “zygote,” “embryo” and “clump of cells” to dehumanize the fetus. This illustrates the great difference between the two camps: they view the potential person very differently. One views any unborn child as a person who is not born yet, but still worthy of the rights of a newborn, while the other views an unwanted fetus as part of the mother’s body, a burden, a parasite, “less than human but more than nothing” (Selley, 2011).

Other fallacies run rampant through the argument over abortion, including a false dichotomy and appeals to pity. The false dichotomy is one that is often seen in politics where each side believes that by giving any ground, the war will be lost. Thus those who oppose abortion argue for personhood at conception, while the those who support it argue for life at birth. Of course, science and reality do not fit either category, which will be explained later. Appeals to pity occur on both sides, though the person to be pitied changes. Those who oppose abortion beg for the life of an innocent victim who has not yet had the opportunity to experience the joy of life, and claim that abortion is selfish, particularly when couples are so willing to adopt who cannot have children of their own. They also mourn the well-being of the mother who kills her unborn child, and the guilt she is sure to bear throughout her life. Those who support abortion, on the other hand, mourn the mother almost exclusively. Her opportunities for education, employment, or even childhood are lost because of one mistake. The victim of rape must look at the evidence of her life’s most horrifying and tragic event growing within her, and the poor woman must endure pain and suffering to bring a child she cannot afford into the world only to give it away. There may be kernels of truth within each of these arguments, but they are not the base issue in the argument. Some, such as the child of rape, may provide contextual exemptions to the eventual legislation, but for the most part, they only muddy the waters as red herrings, rather than focusing on the real issue: when does personhood begin, and is it acceptable to kill an innocent person?

Argument one: “The presence of, or lack of, brain activity is an indicator of life or death. A fetus exhibits brain activity near the point of viability, at 24 weeks. Human beings only produce other human beings. Therefore, at 24 weeks, the fetus is a live human.” In this day of machine-assisted medicine, a body can be kept functioning beyond the point of death (Chiong, 2005). Increasingly, doctors are using the irreversible loss of brain activity as the point of death for their patients (Chiong, 2005). If the loss of brain activity indicates loss of life, it follows that brain activity means life. The scientific definition of life includes the ability to grow and gather or expend energy. At conception, the cell divides, and is scientifically alive. This is not debated. However, the debate usually revolves around what makes humans unique, what determines personhood, our consciousness, usually exhibited in our brain (Krause, 2011). With surgical procedures now being performed on fetuses in utero, doctors are now able to monitor them with EEGs. Surprisingly for some, the brain activity of a fetus in the third trimester is enough to consider it more than simply instinctual with voluntary breathing and the beginning of dreams (Rajeev, 2011). With this new information about the formation of the brain in utero, we can say that scientifically, life begins at conception, but personhood begins just before the third trimester.

Argument two: “A woman is an autonomous person with the moral capacity and the moral right to decide whether a pregnancy will be aborted or brought to term (Kissling, 2005). A woman has the right to choose what happens to her body. A fetus is a part of a woman’s body. Therefore, a woman has a right to terminate an unintended pregnancy.” This is the base argument for those who support abortion. While few would argue that a person should have the right to their own body, the biggest argument comes from the third premise. At conception, the embryo has its own DNA, separate from the mother. When the fetus’ heart starts beating, it pumps blood in its own cardiovascular system entirely separate from the mother. This also follows from a common sense idea of a person never having two brains, four lungs, or a woman never having male genitalia. Judith Thomson provided a thought experiment to assist in the visualization of this argument (Krause, 2011). If a woman wakes up in the hospital with a world-famous violinist attached to her kidneys, and she is told that the violinist cannot survive without her, is she morally or legally obligated to accept this? Of course, this hinges on the woman being completely unaware of the attachment, which only works when referring to victims of rape who become pregnant. Another stipulation was put on the experiment, adding that the woman was attending a party, knowing that someone with her blood type would be chosen to assist this violinist. This is supposed to simulate the knowledge that any sexual activity can result in pregnancy. Does the answer to the question of obligation change if she willingly attended this party with full knowledge that she may be chosen? Finally, the true litmus test is how the woman’s right to choose lines up against the fetus’s right to live. If the fetus is considered a person, such as in argument one, then it has an inalienable right to life, enshrined in our own Declaration of Independence. All rights stem from life, which indicates that the right to life is greater than the right to choose. In addition to this, one single choice wipes an entire lifetime of choices that will not be made by the aborted fetus. Therefore, the right to choose is an insufficient reason to justify killing an unwanted fetus.

Argument three: “The most likely people to have unintended pregnancies are in bad situations such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, or poor economical standing. Children born into these situations will suffer as well. Therefore, it is more merciful to terminate unintended pregnancies.” Some people argue that abortion will prevent child abuse, and that an unwanted child is more likely to be abused, however, child abuse has increased since abortion was made legal (U.S. Abortion Statistics, 2011). This must be one of the worst arguments for proponents of abortion. It would be an incredibly cruel person to suggest euthanasia of all children in poor or abusive households, which is why we have social workers and foster care in the first place. Society as a whole would never accept killing children because of a situation they cannot control. If we accept that a fetus in the third trimester is the same as a child, from argument one, then the transitive property states that killing a fetus in the third trimester is cruel and unacceptable as well. This appears to be a case of trying to skew reality to fit a pre-determined world view.

Argument four: “Unintended and unwanted pregnancies occur. If safe and legal abortions are not readily available, women will resort to unsafe “back-alley” abortions. Therefore, to protect women, safe and legal abortions are necessary.” This is one of the more compelling arguments for abortion. There are no compelling and factual estimates for how many illegal abortions were performed in a period of time, or how many women died in the process because these procedures are never reported. However, if the standard of third trimester is adhered to, any woman who claims to “need” an abortion will have plenty of time to arrange one before the third trimester.

After twenty-four weeks, a fetus has brain activity sufficient to consider it a person. Various arguments try to muddy the topic or add complications to what is truly a simple question: Is it moral to kill a human being for what amounts to convenience’s sake? The answer is a resounding “no.” It is immoral to kill an innocent human being. A fetus in the third trimester is a human being. Therefore, it is immoral to perform abortions in the third trimester. Society, as a whole, must work to prevent abortion from being used as birth control. Estimates show that more than half of all women obtaining an abortion were not using birth control when they got pregnant, 47% of women obtaining an abortion have already had one or more, and 84% were performed on unmarried women, suggesting a use of abortion as birth control (U.S. Abortion Statistics, 2011). There are approximately 1.2 million abortions performed each year, and between 88 and 92% are performed in the first trimester, consistent with the current laws to prevent late-term abortions (U.S. Abortion Statistics, 2011). Perhaps if more emphasis was placed on safe sex, less promiscuity, and a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, the argument over abortion would not be so important.

References
Chiong, W. (2005, Nov-Dec). Brain death without definitions. Hastings Center Report 35(6) 20-30. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from Project Muse.
Kissling, F. (2005). Is there life after Roe? How to think about the fetus. Conscience, XXV (3), 10. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from ProQuest.
Krause, K. (2011). Abortion’s still unanswered questions. The Humanist, 71(4), 40-42. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from ProQuest.
Rajeev, L. (2011, September 22). Brain development in fetus. Retrieved November 4, 2011, from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/brain-development-in-fetus.html
Selley, C. (2011, August 31). Less than human, more than nothing. A debate about the selective abortion of twins has exposed the messy ambiguity in pro-choice ranks. National Post, A.15. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from ProQuest.
U.S. Abortion Statistics. (2011, November 5). Retrieved November 10, 2011, from http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/

11/12/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning | , , , , | Leave a comment