The argument in favor of what is commonly known as the “pro-choice” side of the abortion debate that I have encountered more often than all other arguments put together is, in fact, more accurately something of a “pro-abortion” argument. It does not specifically encourage abortion per se, but it does specifically encourage the notion that the option of aborting a pregnancy is a fundamental characteristic of a woman’s individual rights. The argument goes something like this:
During a pregnancy, what grows inside a woman’s body is a part of her body. We all have a right to do with our bodies whatever we desire. As such, our rights as human beings extend to abortions.
The particulars may vary from case to case. For instance, one might define the growth of a new life as being part of the mother’s body only until medical “viability” (when it can be kept alive outside the body if need be), or until the cells that make up the growing blob begin to differentiate from one another, or until it has a measurable blood type of its own, or until it suits some textbook definition of a human body, or any of a number of other criteria. In general, however, until that (generally kind of arbitrary) cut-off point is reached, the argument is as presented above: the undefined thing inside the womb is “part of the mother’s body”. Just as a woman has a right to get a wart removed by a dermatologist, the argument goes, she has the right to get the potential child removed by someone in the ob/gyn clinic.
Guess what: the “part of the body” argument is crap and nonsense, unless you are ready to accept that the bacteria living in your mouth and intestines, viruses you contract from infected sex partners, and parasites from undercooked pork are also “part of your body”. One does not amputate a bacteria, just as one does not amputate a fetus. The dividing line between mother and child during pregnancy is, in fact, DNA. The mother’s DNA differs from that of the child: by the same token, the mother and the child are not one, even if the child is dependent upon the mother for continued life.
This is not to say I’m a so-called “pro-lifer”. On the contrary, blanket bans on abortions (even with exceptions for the mother’s health) are anathema, as far as I’m concerned. There does need to be some criteria by which we can judge whether an abortion is allowable, but “when it is no longer part of the mother” ain’t it, no matter how you define that distinction. I do not seek to demolish the “part of the mother” pro-abortion argument to weaken the case for keeping abortion legal. Far from it. I seek to eliminate that specious argument specifically because its obstinate popularity harms the argument for what I believe to be right, the legality of abortions, by virtue of the fact that it is recognizably wrong to someone who bothers to examine its merits (or lack thereof) and has the capacity to recognize a fallacious argument when (s)he encounters it.
Ultimately, laws regarding abortions should be chosen the same way all laws should be chosen: by deriving them from a fundamental, self consistent system of ethics based on a bare minimum of axiomatic principles. The ultimate result of such a means of deriving laws related to abortions, so far as I’ve determined thus far, consists simply of a need, if a person is to be judged a criminal in choosing abortion, to prove one of the following:
- the person willfully acted to end a life that should reasonably be believed to be an ethical being
- the person acted to end a life that should reasonably be believed to be an ethical being out of depraved indifference
There’s also the possible outcome of finding that the person is not actually responsible, in an ethical sense, for acting to end the life of a presumed ethical being because the acting individual is not qualified to make such a decision or, for that matter, to recognize the fact that (s)he is not qualified to make such a decision. This is the “insanity defense”, basically, though it applies to unavoidable ignorance and the fact that the accused may not be an ethical being him/her self.
It should be noted that I use the term “ethical being”, a shorthand version of the term “ethically significant being”, in a very specific manner here, with a very specific meaning. I refer to a being that is capable of ethical reasoning, and thus to make ethical decisions responsibly. This capability need not be measured in necessary experience. The mere fact of having the raw intellectual capacity for ethical reasoning, regardless of the knowledge required to apply such capacity, is sufficient to qualify one as an ethical being. It is the potential at the current state of physical capability to achieve ethical reasoning after the necessary experiences of social life that defines one as an ethical being.
Any argument, even if it agrees in results and goals with the ethical argument, that is based on patently false presumptions like “it’s part of the mother” is counterproductive. It makes those who know what the hell they’re talking about look bad by association, and make the job of getting the point across just that much more difficult. If you are inclined to making such half-baked assertions in defense of the notion that you should not be legally prevented from getting an abortion, please, don’t “help”.
The problem with the ethical approach I have outlined as a valid argument in favor of keeping abortion legal is, of course, that we don’t know at which point the life in the womb becomes an ethical being. We (where “we” means “experts”) can make educated guesses, and certainly we should not be giving abortions after that point, but before the point where an educated guess simply cannot be reasonably sure of the ethical reasoning capability of a fetus, we cannot be certain of the criminal character of an abortion.
Because of this fact, a burden of proof in the accusation of guilt is not met, and no violation of law should be deemed to have occurred. Period. If you can’t prove that the person should reasonably have believed that a murder was being committed, the act wasn’t murder. It boils down to the presumption of innocence, and it’s ultimately that simple — innocence not of a violation of law, but innocence of an unethical decision. Law should follow ethics; ethicality does not follow law.